1. Capable of perceiving with a sense or senses: Aristotle held that animals have a sensitive soul, but only humans have a rational one.
2. Responsive or capable of responding to a chemical stimulus or substance. Used especially of a cell, tissue, or organism.
a. Susceptible to slight differences or changes in the environment: a plant that is sensitive to rapid changes in temperature; heat-sensitive enzymes.
b. Readily altered by the action of an agent: film that is sensitive to light.
c. Registering slight differences or changes of condition. Used of an instrument.
a. Easily irritated: sensitive skin.
b. Predisposed to inflammation as a result of preexisting allergy or disease: People with celiac disease are sensitive to gluten.
a. Aware of or careful about the attitudes, feelings, or circumstances of others: The book is a sensitive treatment of a troubled friendship.
b. Easily hurt, upset, or offended: Teenagers tend to be especially sensitive about their appearance.
6. Fluctuating or tending to fluctuate, especially in price: sensitive stocks.
7. Of or relating to secret or classified information: sensitive defense data; holds a sensitive position in the State Department.
1. A sensitive person.
2. One held to be endowed with psychic or occult powers.
[Middle English, from Old French sensitif, from Medieval Latin sēnsitīvus, from Latin sēnsus, sense; see SENSE.]
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2022 by HarperCollins Publishers. 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.