The most common meaning for civilian is simply someone who is not in the military. It can also refer to any object that is not military in origin — e.g., "civilian clothes" or "civilian life."

The meaning of civilian as a non military person is a relatively new one, dating from the early 19th century. Before that it referred to the code of law that governed non-military life. In fact for hundreds of years a civilian was somebody who was a judge or otherwise an expert on the law that applied outside military courts. Because it comes originally from a French word, remember to spell it with only one "l," even though it sounds like it should have two.

Definitions of civilian
  1. noun
    a nonmilitary citizen
    see moresee less
    man, military man, military personnel, serviceman
    someone who serves in the armed forces; a member of a military force
    type of:
    a native or naturalized member of a state or other political community
  2. adjective
    associated with civil life or performed by persons who are not active members of the military
    civilian clothing”
    civilian life”
    applying to ordinary citizens as contrasted with the military
    used of civilians in time of war
    see moresee less
    associated with or performed by members of the armed services as contrasted with civilians
    (used of military forces) designed for military operations abroad
    of or relating to the armed forces
    engaging in or ready for combat
    member of armed forces whose duties do not include fighting as e.g. a chaplain or surgeon
    show more antonyms...
Word Family