Radical Meaning: Here’s What It Means and How To Use It

Radical is one of the spiciest words in the English language. Here is radical’s meaning and how to use it in the best contexts in conversation!

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In almost all areas of thought, there are ordinary ideas and there are radical ideas. While many people tend to gravitate towards one specific side of thinking, the reality is that some people go even further down a particular rule of thought. People who end up much further along these ideas are generally seen as having radical views, being a part of a radical party, or wanting radical changes in life. 

While many people know how to use radical in a sentence, fewer actually understand what it means. Here is everything you need to know about what radical means, where the word comes from, and how to use it in the most effective and accurate ways possible. 

What Does Radical Mean? 

Radical (ˈrædɪk ə l) in American English is typically used as an adjective. It describes something that is extremist, far-reaching, or far away from derivative beliefs. This is commonly seen in religions, political opinions, and general topics in which people can have strong convictions. When used as an adverb, the word is used in the form “radically.” 

When someone has an opinion or thought that tends to take more normal beliefs further than others would typically take it, they would be known as having a radical opinion. Life as a radical person generally is in opposition to many “normal” and “centrist” people. 

Radical as a noun is usually used when there is someone or something that fulfills the definition and description of the adjective radical. For example, if you’re talking about someone who carries beliefs and mentalities that are highly unusual, it’s totally normal to refer to them as radical. 

Radical also has a few other definitions in the world, including: 

  • A slang description of something awe-inspiring
  • A group of atoms that has an electron free to bond with other molecules, like hydroxyl
  • The root of a number in mathematics

If you were to look in a thesaurus for a word list of synonyms, you would likely find words like: 

  • Thoroughgoing
  • Revolutionary
  • Progressive
  • Extremist
  • Fanatical
  • Extreme
  • Diehard
  • Stringent
  • Reforming
  • Far-reaching

In the same vein, some popular antonyms include words like: 

  • Conservative
  • Traditional
  • Moderate
  • Reactionary
  • Nonconfrontational

The Etymology of the Word Radical

Like many words in the English language, the word radical originates from Latin. Most people who study linguistics believe that the original form of the word was the Ancient Latin radix, which meant “root,” as in the “root of a word” or a “root-like stem.” It was essentially used to describe the root of another quantity or item. 

As time went on, the word was transformed into the Late Latin rādīcālis, which retained essentially the same meaning. Since Latin was still a popular and essential language throughout medieval times, the word entered Middle English in its modern form, radical. Because of that, the English-speaking world began to understand it as a word related to something’s foundation. 

Throughout the 1900s, the word began to be associated with people who wanted to separate themselves from traditional beliefs and reform themselves. Because of this, the idea of radical reform started to become the more popular way that the word was used. While the original context of this word generally fell into slang and youthful language, it slowly became a more powerful word within the context of politics and social reform. 

Example Sentences Using the Word Radical

One of the best ways to learn how to use a word in its proper context is to see it in use in actual sentences. Functionally, this is how people worldwide know how to use languages in a practical context, so taking the time to look at example sentences can quickly increase your comprehension! 

Here are some great uses of radical within modern contexts that you will likely be familiar with: 

Even though her mother disapproved of it, she decided to go to New York and get radical surgery. 

It was likely the most radical solution to the problem, but it ended up working out at the end of the day, so I’m not complaining! 

She took her near-miss of a lightning strike as a radical sign that she should be bolder and more adventurous in her life. 

There was a radical difference between the people who lived in my neighborhood and the people in the gated community just down the street. 

The left-wing party has been lobbying for a radical change in how people in this part of the country are treated. 

The freshly free radical walked out of jail and went straight back to his organization’s headquarters. 

Every time a radical leaves our premises, we make sure to keep an eye on them to try to keep everyone safe. 

Their radical beliefs came from a series of Chinese writings that date back to the fourth century BC. 


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  1. Radical Definition & Meaning | Dictionary.com
  2. Radical definition and meaning | Collins English Dictionary
  3. Radical – Definition, Meaning & Synonyms | Vocabulary.com