1. Intended or appropriate for defending; protective.
a. Intended to withstand or deter aggression or attack: a defensive weapons system; defensive behavior.
b. Of or relating to the effort to prevent an opponent from gaining points in a game or athletic contest.
c. Performed so as to avoid risk, danger, or legal liability: defensive driving; defensive medicine.
3. Of or relating to defense.
4. Psychology Constantly protecting oneself from criticism, exposure of one's shortcomings, or other real or perceived threats to the ego.
1. A means of defense.
2. An attitude or position of defense.
on the defensive
Prepared to withstand or counter aggression or attack.
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2020 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Indo-European & Semitic Roots Appendices
Thousands of entries in the dictionary include etymologies that trace their origins back to reconstructed proto-languages. You can obtain more information about these forms in our online appendices:
The Indo-European appendix covers nearly half of the Indo-European roots that have left their mark on English words. A more complete treatment of Indo-European roots and the English words derived from them is available in our Dictionary of Indo-European Roots.