Legal Dictionary


Definition of referendum


    Latin, neuter gerundive of referre (to refer)


  • IPA: /ˌɹɛfəˈɹɛndəm/, SAMPA: /%rEf@"rEnd@m/


referendum (plural referenda or referendums)

  1. A direct popular vote on a proposed law or constitutional amendment
  2. A note from a diplomat to his government requesting instructions

See also

Further reading

A referendum (also known as a plebiscite or a ballot question) is a direct vote in which an entire electorate is asked to either accept or reject a particular proposal. This may result in the adoption of a new constitution, a constitutional amendment, a law, the recall of an elected official or simply a specific government policy. It is a form of direct democracy. The measure put to a vote is known in the U.S. as a ballot proposition or measure.


The word plebiscite comes from the Latin plebiscita, which originally meant a decree of the Concilium Plebis, the popular assembly of the Roman Republic. Referendums and referenda are both commonly used as plurals of referendum. However, the use of referenda is deprecated by the Oxford English Dictionary, which advises that:

    "Referendums is logically preferable as a plural form meaning ballots on one issue (as a Latin gerund, referendum has no plural). The Latin plural gerundive referenda, meaning things to be referred, necessarily connotes a plurality of issues."

In the United States a plebiscite is typically known as an initiative when originating in a petition of ordinary citizens, and as a referendum only if it consists of a proposal referred to voters by the legislature. A plebiscite can be considered a kind of election and is often referred to as such in the U.S. (an election literally means a choice). In other countries the term election is often reserved for events in which elected representatives are chosen.


  1. Wiktionary. Published under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.


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