What's a more positive way of saying that someone is "rebellious" or doesn't like to conform to rules or conventions? Synonyms like "defiant" and "recalcitrant" seem too negative.

I want to complete the sentence:

"Like any ______ teenager nowadays, I dislike following imposed rules, and I want to follow my own path."

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    Revolutionary is the usual opposite in that dimension. Revolutions succeed, but rebellions fail. And history is written by the winners. Dec 4, 2016 at 15:43
  • Thank you for the suggestion, but I would like an adjective to describe a person... revolutionary doesn't strike me as a word that would fit in the context "Like any revolutionary teenager, I don't like to follow the rules."
    – PK123
    Dec 4, 2016 at 15:44
  • 1
    Independently-minded - self-reliant and seeking autonomy. Dec 4, 2016 at 15:54
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    "Rebellious" isn't positive in itself? It seems the connotation is pretty subjective: those who think following rules (or making other people follow them :-)) is good will see it as negative; those of us who value independence of spirit will see it as positive.
    – jamesqf
    Dec 4, 2016 at 17:59
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    I don't think your example sentence needs an additional adjective. "Like any teenager nowadays, I dislike following imposed rules, and I want to follow my own path" sounds about right to me.
    – 1006a
    Dec 5, 2016 at 4:08

9 Answers 9


How about free-spirited?


free-spirited: acting independently or somewhat irresponsibly

Your example:

I want to complete the sentence: "Like any free-spirited teenager nowadays, I dislike following imposed rules, and I want to follow my own path."

Free-spirited seems a positive way of saying that someone is "rebellious" or doesn't like to conform to rules or conventions.




  1. not influenced or controlled by others in matters of opinion, conduct, etc.; thinking or acting for oneself: an independent thinker.

4 . not dependent; not depending or contingent upon something else for existence, operation, etc. 5 . not relying on another or others for aid or support.


If someone is independent then they are happy to do things by themselves. On the other hand, this doesn't connote rebelliousness, only independence.

  • Independent is what I would have said; +1. Dec 4, 2016 at 17:38

I particularly like the second sense of transgressive: "of or relating to fiction, cinematography, or art in which orthodox cultural, moral, and artistic boundaries are challenged by the representation of unconventional behavior and the use of experimental forms." (Oxford Dictionary.)

It may have a negative tinge like the other words you ruled out, but I still find it applicable, considering that many people who resist conformity feel some satisfaction when they knowingly transgress a rule or limit which they believe to be arbitrary and confining. (They like being "bad".)

I think etymology supports a more neutral/positive usage as well: trans- (across) + gressus (to walk, go). Simply walking across the established lines of social custom.

  • Now having seen your edited question with the sentence you wish to complete, I agree with the last commenter that "independent-minded" is a pretty good fit. Dec 4, 2016 at 16:03
  • Welcome to English Language & Usage and thank you for your answer. One minor thing: You seem to be quoting a dictionary definition for transgressive, can you please edit your question to provide a link or citation of the source? Also note that answers posted as comments are free game for being posted as an answer by somebody else. So, if you agree with the comment you mention, feel free to advocate it in a separate answer in a similar fashion as this one (i.e., elaborating why you think it is a good choice and quoting dictionary definitions).
    – Wrzlprmft
    Dec 4, 2016 at 16:18
  • Thanks for the tip to credit my source (which I should have already known to do!) Dec 4, 2016 at 17:08

How about "freethinking", or "nonconformist"?

Personally, I am quite fond of "freethinking" as it implies reason without dogma, meaning that such a person would follow rules if they made sense and not just because they were told to obey.


A term that can be used affectionately is 'feisty' (MW, definition 2).

having or showing a lively aggressiveness "the movie's feisty heroine"

It can be applied to people of any age, as the examples on the linked page show:

...Frank P. Zeidler, a feisty octogenarian...

She never tired of hearing anecdotes from her childhood, and she particularly liked to hear how feisty she had been...

Even her opponents admire her feisty spirit.


independent-minded teenager

Unfortunately I don't know a great way of documenting this. Wordnik has a bunch of quotes, and a google search for the exact phrase "independent-minded teenager" will get you 13,600 hits (but then, so will many other phrases). Still, in my experience, this is the standard euphemism for rebellious teenager.



“Characterized by attack on cherished beliefs or institutions.”

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    Hi Shelby, welcome to EL&U. If you quote someone else's words, it's essential that you make this clear (eg using quotation marks or blockquote formatting) and acknowledge the source. It's not only polite to give the original author credit, it also avoids the more serious charge of plagiarism. I urge you to edit your post accordingly, and add a link and a brief explanation as to why this word suits the context. Feb 3, 2019 at 23:23
  • @Chappo, I don’t invest much effort in data stored on centralized controlled databases (because it’s an inherently corrupt paradigm). I added the quote marks and upvoted your pedantic comment. I’ll make the effort when my effort is recorded on a decentralized database that nobody controls (i.e. a blockchain). You realize that on a decentralized ledger, nobody can remove submitted content nor enforce such pedantic rules. Of course individual nodes can refuse to host/serve such content, but if there’s even one dissenter then the content lives forever. Please note fair use doctrine in copyright Feb 4, 2019 at 3:12
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    Shelby, you have an interesting POV that I have some (slight) sympathy for. On the other hand, how can I tell whether your unsubstantiated opinion on the meaning of iconoclastic is correct? If you're an iconoclast, there's a higher probability that your answer is deliberately misleading. Why would you post on our site if you find our standards unacceptable? Is that recalcitrance or defiance? At what point does it veer towards vexatious or antisocial? Feb 4, 2019 at 3:42
  • @Chappo I like(d) your reply. Oh it’s quite substantiated. Just Google search my quoted string and it will pull up the source. I posted here, so that I can remember to scrape my work and move it to the decentralized ledger replacement I’m working on. Cheers. Feb 9, 2019 at 13:24

"Individualistic" is also a good one for this instance:

Adj- 1. characterized by individualism; independent and self-reliant. synonyms: unconventional, unorthodox, atypical, singular, unique, original, nonconformist, independent, individual, freethinking." 2.marked by or expressing individuality; unconventional. "her work is quirky and genuinely individualistic..."

Individualism is also a philosophical school of thought, so imparts some intellectual credibility, too.

  • 1
    Please tell us where that text that isn't yours comes from.
    – tchrist
    Dec 4, 2016 at 18:51
  • As tchrist says, can you please provide evidence in the form of references to back up your answer? Dec 4, 2016 at 19:25

Something assertive, as in


Of the nature of, or characterized by, assertion; declaratory, affirmative; positive, dogmatic

It's true 'assertive' does not denote 'rebellious' but someone who is assertive is not wont to 'conform to rules or conventions' just because they are there.

You could use self-assertive, but the self part is provided by I.

I do like


insisting on one's own rights or claims; egoistic; assuming.

Most teens are wrapped up in their own world, so this seems appropriate. Someone who asserts themselves onto the world is not likely to be prone to conformity.

Or, you could forego the use of any adjective. First adjectives tend to weaken writing because they suggest nouns cannot do their job on their own. Second, isn't every teen one who 'dislike[s] following imposed rules, and [who] want[s] to follow [his/her/their] own path.'?

Definitions from the Oxford English Dictionary, online, available through susbcription.

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