I recently came across a very informative answer here within the Stack Exchange network where the author uses the word vindicative. I assumed the author had meant vindictive (I didn't know vindicative was a word). Google also thought I meant to search for vindictive when I looked up vindicative but to my surprise there are plenty of online dictionaries that list it as a word.

Initially my thought was it was just a matter of a variation in spelling similar to the differences we see between American and British English (the author is British), but then I came across this explanation on WikiDiff which states the following:

"As adjectives the difference between vindictive and vindicative is that vindictive is having a tendency to seek revenge when vengeful, while vindicative is having a tendency to vindicate."

What is the history/origin behind vindictive and vindicative and their respective meanings?

  • 1
    No spell-checker is comprehensive, and vindicative is a rare word. Never rely on automated spell-checkers, much less so-called grammar-checkers, to judge the acceptability of a word or phrase.
    – choster
    Commented Aug 10, 2016 at 14:50
  • @choster Of course, I'm aware that software and tools like these are far from all-encompassing I was just curious as to why it appears to have been 'left behind'.
    – bwegs
    Commented Aug 10, 2016 at 14:53
  • 2
    Also because vindicative is so rare, odds are that when people type it, they actually meant vindictive so the spell checker statistically helps more people by suggesting the “correction”
    – Jim
    Commented Aug 10, 2016 at 15:57
  • 2
    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because the foibles of spell-checkers are a matter for the programmers to deal with rather than a matter of English usage.. Commented Aug 10, 2016 at 16:15
  • 1
    @AndyT Or better yet, just right... My question seems to have been adequately re-shaped by the comments and edits after all.
    – bwegs
    Commented Aug 11, 2016 at 15:56

1 Answer 1


The two terms appears to have a common origin, but "vindictive" has retained its original negative meaning while "vindicative" has also developed a more positive connotation:

From Grammarphobia:.

  • The verb vindicate comes from the Latin vindicare, meaning to claim, set free, punish, or avenge. In the 16th and 17th centuries, the English word reflected both the negative and positive sides of its Latin heritage.

  • First, it meant to avenge or exercise vengeance. Later it came to mean punish; rescue or set free; justify or clear (as from suspicion or dishonor); establish possession of something; and make good or defend against encroachment.

Origin of vindictive:

  • The adjective “vindictive” (from the Latin vindicta, meaning revenge), was preceded by an earlier form, “vindicative,” in the 1500s, and has had a generally grim history since entering English.

  • When “vindictive” first showed up in the early 1600s, it described someone “given to revenge; having a revengeful disposition,” according to the Oxford English Dictionary. In other words, someone who liked punishing people or holding a grudge.

  • In former days, “vindictive” was also used to describe anything punitive, retributive, or avenging. Today we use the legal phrase “punitive damages,” but the OED cites a quotation from 1813 about “vindictive damages.”

Both terms appear to derive from "vindication",

  • The Chambers Dictionary of Etymology suggests that “vindicate” could be a back-formation from an earlier word, “vindication,” which first appeared in English in the late 1400s and originally meant the act of avenging. (A back formation is a word formed by dropping a real or imagined part from another word.)

  • The OED says that “vindication” made its first published appearance in William Caxton’s printing of Aesop’s Fables (1484): “An asse … smote hym [the lion] in the forhede with his feete by maner of vyndycacion.”

but through the centuries developed different nuances:

  • So both “vindicate” and “vindictive” come from notions of vengeance and punishment. Although “vindictive” has continued to embrace the dark side, “vindicate” has lightened up.
  • A good answer to the question OP actually says they meant to ask. Commented Aug 10, 2016 at 16:44

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