Absolute vs. Relative: Know the Difference
By Shumaila Saeed || Updated on November 11, 2023
Absolute is fixed and unconditional, while relative is comparative and dependent on context.
In the realm of morality, absolute standards are those which apply universally and are not subject to personal opinions. On the other hand, relative ethics suggest that what is moral may vary depending on the cultural, situational, or individual perspective. While absolute truths are seen as factual and universal, relative truths are seen as varying from one situation, culture, or time period to another.
When it comes to measurements, absolute values are definitive and can be quantified exactly, such as the absolute zero temperature in physics. Relative measurements, however, are given as a difference or ratio compared to another value or standard. For instance, the temperature relative to room temperature could be a significant piece of information in everyday contexts.
In the field of grammar, absolute can describe a construction that is syntactically independent of the rest of the sentence, such as an absolute phrase. Relative, however, often relates to clauses or pronouns that depend on another element in the sentence for their meaning, connecting back to a noun mentioned earlier.
In computing, an absolute path is a complete path that describes the location of a file or directory from the root element. In contrast, a relative path is determined by the current working directory and can change if the working directory changes. This distinction is crucial when navigating or structuring file systems.
Absolute refers to something that is unchanging and constant, irrespective of other variables. For instance, the absolute location of a place on Earth is determined by its latitude and longitude, which does not change. In contrast, relative refers to something that can only be understood or valued in comparison or relation to something else. For example, the relative location of a place can be described in terms of its proximity to other locations, which can change depending on the point of reference.
Unaffected by other variables.
Dependent on or compared to something else.
Value measured in relation to another.
Complete path from the root directory.
Path from the current directory.
A construction that is independent of the main sentence.
A clause or pronoun that depends on the main sentence.
Universally accepted, not dependent on context.
Varies by perspective, context, or situation.
Absolute and Relative Definitions
Independent of arbitrary standards;
Absolute truth is universally recognized.
Existing or having its specific nature only by relation to something else;
Color is relative to light.
A term used in philosophy that refers to an ultimate reality or entity;
The concept of the Absolute transcends human knowledge.
A grammatical element referring to a noun or noun phrase in another part of the sentence:
The book that you gave me is fascinating.
Unqualified in extent or degree; total
Not absolute or independent;
Wealth is often relative to location and economy.
Not limited by restrictions or exceptions
An absolute right.
A term denoting a person connected by blood or marriage;
My relative came to visit last month.
Being fully such; utter
An absolute fool.
Considered in comparison or relation to something else
An animal with a large brain relative to body size.
The relative quiet of the suburbs.
Unconstrained by constitutional or other provisions
An absolute ruler.
Having pertinence or relevance; connected or related
How are those remarks relative to the discussion?.
Not mixed; pure
(Grammar) Referring to or qualifying an antecedent, as the pronoun who in the man who was on TV or that in the dictionary that I use.
Not to be doubted or questioned; positive
(Music) Having the same key signature. Used of major and minor scales and keys
A minor is the relative minor of C major.
Of, relating to, or being a word, phrase, or construction that is isolated syntactically from the rest of a sentence, as the referee having finally arrived in The referee having finally arrived, the game began.
A person related to another by heredity, adoption, or marriage.
Of, relating to, or being a transitive verb when its object is implied but not stated. For example, inspires in We have a teacher who inspires is an absolute verb.
A species or other taxon that shares a common ancestor, usually a relatively recent ancestor, with another
The jaguar is a relative of the lion.
Of, relating to, or being an adjective or pronoun that stands alone when the noun it modifies is being implied but not stated. For example, in Theirs were the best, theirs is an absolute pronoun and best is an absolute adjective.
(Grammar) A relative pronoun.
Relating to measurements or units of measurement derived from fundamental units of length, mass, and time.
Connected to or depending on something else; comparative.
Relating to absolute temperature.
Expressed in relation to another item, rather than in complete form.
(Law) Complete and unconditional; final
An absolute divorce.
(grammar) Depending on an antecedent; comparative.
The words “big” and “small” are relative.
Something that is absolute.
(music) Having the same key but differing in being major or minor.
Something regarded as the ultimate and transcendent basis of all thought and being. Used with the.
Relevant; pertinent; related.
Relative to your earlier point about taxes, ...
Something regarded as exceeding or transcending everything else to the point of being independent and unrelated.
Capable to be changed by other beings or circumstance; conditional.
Free of restrictions, limitations, qualifications or conditions; unconditional.
Someone in the same family; someone connected by blood, marriage, or adoption.
Why do my relatives always talk about sex?
Unrestricted by laws, a constitution, or parliamentary or judicial or other checks; (legally) unlimited in power, especially if despotic.
(linguistics) A type of adjective that inflects like a relative clause, rather than a true adjective, in certain Bantu languages.
Free from imperfection, perfect, complete; especially, perfectly embodying a quality in its essential characteristics or to its highest degree.
Absolute purity, absolute liberty
Having relation or reference; referring; respecting; standing in connection; pertaining; as, arguments not relative to the subject.
I'll have groundsMore relative than this.
Pure, free from mixture or adulteration; unmixed.
Arising from relation; resulting from connection with, or reference to, something else; not absolute.
Every thing sustains both an absolute and a relative capacity: an absolute, as it is such a thing, endued with such a nature; and a relative, as it is a part of the universe, and so stands in such a relations to the whole.
Complete, utter, outright; unmitigated, not qualified or diminished in any way.
When caught, he told an absolute lie.
An absolute denial of all charges
You're an absolute genius!
Indicating or expressing relation; refering to an antecedent; as, a relative pronoun.
Positive, certain; unquestionable; not in doubt.
Characterizing or pertaining to chords and keys, which, by reason of the identify of some of their tones, admit of a natural transition from one to the other.
(archaic) Certain; free from doubt or uncertainty (e.g. a person, opinion or prediction).
One who, or that which, relates to, or is considered in its relation to, something else; a relative object or term; one of two object or term; one of two objects directly connected by any relation.
Fundamental, ultimate, intrinsic; not relative; independent of references or relations to other things or standards.
The doctrine that absolute knowledge of things is possible, an absolute principle
Absolute rights and duties are such as pertain to man in a state of nature as contradistinguished from relative rights and duties, or such as pertain to him in his social relations.
A person related by blood or marriage;
Police are searching for relatives of the deceased
He has distant relations back in New Jersey
(physics) Independent of arbitrary units of measurement, standards, or properties; not comparative or relative.
Absolute velocity, absolute motion, absolute position
An animal or plant that bears a relationship to another (as related by common descent or by membership in the same genus)
Having reference to or derived in the simplest manner from the fundamental units of mass, time, and length.
Not absolute or complete;
A relative stranger
Relating to the absolute temperature scale (based on absolute zero); kelvin.
Properly related in size or degree or other measurable characteristics; usually followed by `to';
Punishment oughtt to be proportional to the crime
Earnings relative to production
(grammar) Not immediately dependent on the other parts of the sentence; not in a syntactical relation with other parts of a text, or qualifying the text as a whole rather than any single word in it, like "it being over" in "it being over, she left".
Considered in relation or in proportion to something else:
The speed of the car is fast relative to the speed limit.
(of a case form) Syntactically connected to the rest of the sentence in an atypical manner, or not relating to or depending on it, like in the nominative absolute or genitive absolute, accusative absolute or ablative absolute.
(of an adjective or possessive pronoun) Lacking a modified substantive, like "hungry" in "feed the hungry".
Expressing a relative term without a definite comparison, like "older" in "an older person should be treated with respect".
Positive; not graded (not comparative or superlative).
(of a usually transitive verb) Having no direct object, like "kill" in "if looks could kill".
(of Celtic languages) Being or pertaining to an inflected verb that is not preceded by any number of particles or compounded with a preverb.
(math) As measured using an absolute value.
Mean absolute difference
(math) Indicating an expression that is true for all real numbers, or of all values of the variable; unconditional.
(education) Pertaining to a grading system based on the knowledge of the individual and not on the comparative knowledge of the group of students.
Independent of (references to) other arts; expressing things (beauty, ideas, etc) only in one art.
Indicating that a tenure or estate in land is not conditional or liable to terminate on (strictly) any occurrence or certain kinds of occurrence.
A freehold property is an estate in fee simple absolute in possession.
(obsolete) Absolved; free.
That which exists (or has a certain property, nature, size, etc) independent of references to other standards or external conditions; that which is universally valid; that which is not relative, conditional, qualified or mitigated.
(geometry) In a plane, the two imaginary circular points at infinity; in space of three dimensions, the imaginary circle at infinity.
A realm which exists without reference to anything else; that which can be imagined purely by itself; absolute ego.
The whole of reality; the totality to which everything is reduced; the unity of spirit and nature; God.
(chemistry) A concentrated natural flower oil, used for perfumes; an alcoholic extract of a concrete.
Loosed from any limitation or condition; uncontrolled; unrestricted; unconditional; as, absolute authority, monarchy, sovereignty, an absolute promise or command; absolute power; an absolute monarch.
Complete in itself; perfect; consummate; faultless; as, absolute perfection; absolute beauty.
So absolute she seems,And in herself complete.
Viewed apart from modifying influences or without comparison with other objects; actual; real; - opposed to relative and comparative; as, absolute motion; absolute time or space.
Loosed from, or unconnected by, dependence on any other being; self-existent; self-sufficing.
Capable of being thought or conceived by itself alone; unconditioned; non-relative.
To Cusa we can indeed articulately trace, word and thing, the recent philosophy of the absolute.
Positive; clear; certain; not doubtful.
I am absolute 't was very Cloten.
The peddler stopped, and tapped her on the head,With absolute forefinger, brown and ringed.
Pure; unmixed; as, absolute alcohol.
Not immediately dependent on the other parts of the sentence in government; as, the case absolute. See Ablative absolute, under Ablative.
In a plane, the two imaginary circular points at infinity; in space of three dimensions, the imaginary circle at infinity.
Something that is conceived to be absolute; something that does not depends on anything else and is beyond human control;
No mortal being can influence the absolute
Perfect or complete or pure;
Complete and without restriction or qualification; sometimes used informally as intensifiers;
An absolute dimwit
A downright lie
An out-and-out lie
A rank outsider
Many right-down vices
Got the job through sheer persistence
Not limited by law;
An absolute monarch
Expressing finality with no implication of possible change;
An absolute (or unequivocal) quarantee to respect the nation's authority
Inability to make a conclusive (or unequivocal) refusal
Without conditions or limitations;
A total ban
Not capable of being violated or infringed;
Infrangible human rights
Unqualified in extent or degree;
His trust was absolute.
Not relative or compared to something else;
Absolute humidity measures water vapor independently.
Perfect in quality or nature;
The absolute best example of craftsmanship.
Repeatedly Asked Queries
Can truth be relative?
Yes, relative truth means it can vary based on context, perspective, or circumstances.
What is an absolute value in mathematics?
An absolute value is the non-negative value of a number without regard to its sign.
Can moral values be absolute?
Some philosophers argue that certain moral values are absolute, universal, and unchanging.
What does relative mean in terms of family?
Relative refers to a person connected to you by blood or marriage.
What's an absolute phrase in grammar?
An absolute phrase is a group of words that modifies an entire sentence independently.
What does absolute power mean?
Absolute power refers to complete and unrestricted authority over others.
What is a relative clause in English?
A relative clause is a part of a sentence that modifies a noun and usually begins with who, whom, whose, that, or which.
What's an example of absolute location?
Absolute location is the exact coordinates of a place, like 40° 712N, 74° 006W for New York City.
Can something be absolutely infinite?
In theory, yes; absolute infinity suggests something is limitless or unbounded.
How do absolute monarchies work?
In an absolute monarchy, the monarch has total power over the state and government.
Is zero an absolute temperature?
Yes, absolute zero is the lowest possible temperature where no heat energy remains.
How does relative humidity differ from absolute?
Relative humidity is the amount of moisture in the air compared to what the air can hold at that temperature.
What is relative poverty?
Relative poverty measures how a person's income compares to the average in their society.
What does absolute discharge mean in legal terms?
Absolute discharge is a court decision where the defendant is found guilty but is not punished.
What does absolute mean in law?
Absolute in law refers to complete and final, like an absolute decree of divorce.
Is speed relative or absolute?
Speed can be relative when compared to other moving objects, but absolute speed is measured independently.
Is the theory of relativity about absolute or relative concepts?
It's about relative concepts, describing how measurements of time and space differ according to different states of motion.
What's the difference between absolute and relative risk?
Absolute risk is the risk of a certain event happening, while relative risk compares the risk between two different activities or groups.
What's a relative pronoun?
A relative pronoun introduces a relative clause and relates it to the antecedent, such as "who" or "which."
Can "absolute" be used in everyday language?
Yes, it can express complete certainty or total agreement, as in "That's absolutely correct."
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Written byShumaila Saeed
Shumaila Saeed, an expert content creator with 6 years of experience, specializes in distilling complex topics into easily digestible comparisons, shining a light on the nuances that both inform and educate readers with clarity and accuracy.