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Middle English, from Middle French, from Latin civilis, from civis


b : of or relating to the state or its citizenry <civil strife>
  • 2 a : civilized <civil society>
b : adequate in courtesy and politeness : mannerly <a civil question>
  • 3 a : of, relating to, or based on civil law
b : relating to private rights and to remedies sought by action or suit distinct from criminal proceedings
c : established by law
  • 4 : of, relating to, or involving the general public, their activities, needs, or ways, or civic affairs as distinguished from special (as military or religious) affairs
  • 5 of time : based on the mean sun and legally recognized for use in ordinary affairs


polite, courteous, gallant, chivalrous mean observant of the forms required by good breeding. civil often suggests little more than the avoidance of overt rudeness <owed the questioner a civil reply>. polite commonly implies polish of speech and manners and sometimes suggests an absence of cordiality <if you can't be pleasant, at least be polite>. courteous implies more actively considerate or dignified politeness <clerks who were unfailingly courteous to customers>. gallant and chivalrous imply courteous attentiveness especially to women. gallant suggests spirited and dashing behavior and ornate expressions of courtesy <a gallant suitor of the old school>. chivalrous suggests high-minded and self-sacrificing behavior <a chivalrous display of duty>.