I was doing some exercises where I had a chart with a mixture of words which I had to use to complete some sentences. One sentence looked like this:

Both parties were becoming...................waiting for the mediation proceedings to begin.

I thought that the correct answer would be "restless", yet according to the answer key it is "restive".

From what I have managed to find out it appears that:

  1. restless - unable to rest, relax, or remain still
  2. restive - difficult to control or impatient in the face of restraint or authority

So to me, contrary to what the answer key says, "restless" seems to be the correct answer.

However, I also read that:

Restive is often merely a synonym for restless.

But even if the above is true and "restive" can be used as a synynom for "restless", why does the answer key deem "restless" as incorrect in the given example? It makes no sense. Is there something I don't get?

1 Answer 1


That's a pretty rotten question.

Both of those words can mean unable to remain still due to boredom or impatience.

To my mind, the only real difference between those words - or perhaps I should say, the only reason we have two different words - is that restless came from Middle English and has a Germanic root, and restive came from Old French and has a Latin root.

Restless, or really, just rest comes from the Proto-Germanic *rastō, *rastijō and ultimately from the PIE root ros-, res-, erH- (https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/rest#English)

Restive is from the Latin re- +‎ stō (“stand; stay, remain”), which is from the PIE sth₂éh₁yeti (https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/resto#Latin)

Now, if you look at those roots, you'll notice something odd: restive comes from a word that meant standing; not moving! In fact, the earliest use of restive seems to have described a disobedient horse that stood still and refused to move. And now we use it to mean people who are disobedient and refuse to stay still!

So, if your textbook was being a stickler about the two words having different meanings, it should have said that restive means refusing to move, and therefore the correct answer is restless.


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