I recently used the word subjugative in the following sentence:

Any company that wants to be “legitimate” (raise money, hire employees, file taxes, distribute shares, etc.) puts itself in a subjugative position toward the government.

The dictionary in Google Chrome thinks subjugative is not a word, and I can't find many dictionary entries for it (no OED subscription). However Wikitionary lists subjugative as an English adjective "of or pertaining to subjugation," which is how I meant to use it.

To "subjugate" is to bring under domination or control. What is the adjective to describe the position of the person brought under domination or control? Subjugative seems to make sense to me, but it seems it's not a real word.

Am I looking for "subjugate" pronounced with a long a?

  • 2
    Subjugate, the verb, is pronounced /'səbʤəˌget/, with a tense /e/ in the last syllable. I've never seen or heard subjugative as an adjective; I wouldn't use it because it would look and sound too much like subjunctive, and that wouldn't help anything. Commented Dec 22, 2017 at 21:33
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    It's probably used by modal citizens. Commented Dec 22, 2017 at 21:49
  • If it's in Wiktionary it must be true. Commented Dec 22, 2017 at 21:51
  • 2
    Seriously, OneLook dictionary search provides zero returns. And it's not in the OED. So you choose: trust the unprofessionally compiled Wiktionary or go with multiple, professionally compiled resources. Commented Dec 22, 2017 at 21:54
  • @Clare You do mean OED and not ODO? Commented Dec 22, 2017 at 21:57

4 Answers 4


The phrase "a real word" has no clear definition

The concept of " a real word" is uncertain and its meaning varies between different people. See the answers to what does the phrase "a real word" mean?

"Subjugative" exists in English texts, but is not well attested in dictionaries

"Subjugative" has been used; you note that it is in Wiktionary, and the Google Ngram Viewer and Google Books Search also attest to some usage of this word.

The suffix "-ative" is somewhat productive in modern English as a means of deriving adjectives from verbs (often verbs ending in "-ate"). It has even been attached to English verbs, like "talk". As Tuffy mentions, one issue with using "subjugative" in this context is that it could refer to the entity doing the subjugating rather than the entity that is subjugated (compare "destructive", which describes something that tends to destroy things, not something that tends to be destroyed).

See how "subjugative" is used in the following examples:

  • By its intervention in the impeachment process, moreover, the Court aborted the possibility that the Congress might reassert the primacy of the equality principle in our governance by condemning President Nixon for his subjugative impositions against political opponents.

    (The Constitution in Conflict, by Robert Burt)

  • Empire, which is the historical culmination of capitalism in the form of a pure hegemonized American political power, has successfully converted and castrated the religions and cultures of Europe and most of Asia. It has been disruptive and subjugative in places like Africa.

    ("Ummah and Empire", by Mucahit Bilici, in The Blackwell Companion to Contemporary Islamic Thought, edited by Ibrahim Abu-Rabi‘)

The adjective "subjugate" is attested (but it isn't pronounced with "long a")

According to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), the adjective "subjugate" is pronounced /ˈsəbdʒʊɡət/ or /ˈsəbdʒəɡət/: the vowel in the final syllable is reduced, unlike in the verb. This is similar to the difference in pronunciation between e.g. the verb "desolate" and the adjective "desolate". There are some adjectives ending in "-ate" that are or can be pronounced with the unreduced "face" vowel (the "long a" vowel), but I think this is not the most common pattern for adjectives like this.

Adjectives ending in "-ate" often coexist with, and may have some overlap in meaning with, past participles or adjectives ending in "-ated", like the word "subjugated" that Lambie mentioned in a comment.

All the same, I wouldn't recommend using "subjugate position"

The OED says "subjugate" as an adjective means "Subjugated; subject to, subordinate" so, since we can say "a subordinate position", it seems logical to suppose that we might be able to say "a subjugate position". And there are a few examples of this phrase that can be found using Google Search, but it seems pretty uncommon, and sounds a bit weird to me.

To my ears, "a position of subjugation to the government" sounds better than either "a subjugative position toward the government" or "a subjugate position toward the government".


It could exist, in the sense that it follows the correct patterns of transformation for Latin verbs of the first conjugation.

Latin IVGVM (jugum) means a yoke, put on the necks of oxen, slaves and captives. Subjugare means to put under (sub) the yoke (jugum) - so to ‘subjugate by conquest. Mass enslavement was always one outcome of Roman conquest. It is an active, transitive verb.

The related noun is ‘subjugatio’. That exists, but no such word as ‘subjugativus’ is found. If it did, however, it probably describe the conqueror rather than the conquered. So I would look for another word.

  • A good etymological argument against the word, which ought to be proscribed on stylistic grounds if nothing else. ;-) Cheers!
    – Rob_Ster
    Commented Dec 22, 2017 at 23:50
  • Virtually anything could exist. ELU is about usage, not make-believe. And English, not Latin. Commented Dec 23, 2017 at 0:15

With verbs ending in -ate you can often strip the last -e and add -ive or -ory to make an adjective. Some words are recognised in dictionaries as both, such as "emulate" -> "emulative"/"emulatory". "terminate" -> "terminative"/"terminatory".

I can easily say I don't think I've ever heard "terminatory" before, yet there is its definition, along with in various other dictionaries.

Merriam-Webster Dictionary, Collins English Dictionary, American Heritage Dictionary, and Random House Kernerman Webster's College Dictionary don't recognise "alienatory". Does this mean it's not a word? If you look further we find Oxford Living Dictionaries does.

Of, relating to, or characterized by alienation; alienating.
Oxford Living Dictionaries

Someone who did search of dictionaries for this word "alienatory" and happened to miss this one would most likely tell me it's not a word. It's probably just as likely they would see this one definition and still say it's not a word because the vast majority of the authoritative dictionaries don't recognise it.

So the "it's not in most dictionaries argument" isn't a definitive one. In the case of "subjugative", it's at least in Wiktionary, but you could argue it's nowhere near as authoritative as some others mentioned above. Fair enough.

-tive and -tory as functional morphemes to make an adjective out of an -ate ending verb are so common that even if you've never seen the word I believe it would be very hard to not understand its meaning. Ngrams shows both "subjugative" and "subjugatory". This means they have been used in the past 200 years. I give the link just for your reference. Note Ngrams is just an indication.

subjugatory/subjugative Google Ngrams

The question of whether your word should be allowed or used depends on your circumstances. If you're worried about criticism of your writing you'll probably want to play it safe. Otherwise use your creativity and the tools at your disposal.


Firstly, language is constantly evolving, and new words are regularly being added to dictionaries as the use of those words become popularised. So, a word that isn't in the dictionary today, may very well be there tomorrow.

As to your question: the derivative word "subjugative" to describe the behavior of one who subjugates others, seems completely acceptable; particularly in the absence of another word with the same meaning.

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    I don't think this really answers the question. Why does it seem "completely acceptable"?
    – JJJ
    Commented Sep 27, 2018 at 3:21
  • Because, as others have pointed out: 1) the word "subjugative" is gaining acceptance by its use; 2) adding "-ative" to create an adjective is common practice; 3) there's no existing adjective for the word "subjugate" that fits this usage.
    – Dingeling
    Commented Sep 28, 2018 at 4:06
  • In that case, please add a source to support that claim.
    – JJJ
    Commented Sep 28, 2018 at 4:09
  • Your effort to help is welcome. To show that yours is the right answer, it should include explanation, context, and supporting facts. For example, you could offer evidence such as the definition from a good online dictionary. You could contrast your answer with other answers. Whatever would make this the right answer, instead of an opinion. This is what makes answers useful – to the asker, and to future visitors. See: “Real questions have answers, not items or ideas or opinions”.
    – MetaEd
    Commented Sep 28, 2018 at 21:00

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