IATE Term of the Week: constitutional referendum

December 2, 2016 10:02 am

Italy has called a referendum for December 4th on constitutional changes that would take back powers from the regions and make the Senate subordinate to parliament’s lower house which is the Chamber of Deputies. As the expert, Nicola Chelotti explained, “Italy is one of the only countries in western Europe where the deputy chamber (lower parliament) and senate serve the same function”. So it seems that the moment to take a decision has arrived.


This is why we have decided that this time the IATE Term of the Week is constitutional referendum.

Referendum is a Latin word and – according to the Merriam Webster dictionary – its first known use dates back to 1847. It was used on the occasion of a new constitution in Switzerland, where the voters could vote directly on certain issues. Thus, a referendum is a measure that’s referred (that is, sent on) to the people.

According to Merriam Webster dictionary a referendum is (1) the principle or practice of submitting to popular vote a measure passed on or proposed by a legislative body or by popular initiative; (2)  a vote on a measure so submitted.

As for the noun constitution, according to the Merriam Webster dictionary, it has different meanings, but the most important two that give sense to our chosen expression are: (1) the basic principles and laws of a nation, state, or social group that determine the powers and duties of the government and guarantee certain rights to the people in it; (2) a written instrument embodying the rules of a political or social organization.

So, the compound constitutional referendum refers to: a popular referendum where the citizens vote to adopt a new constitution or its amendments; citizens accept or reject the proposals presented by the competent authority of their countries.

If you would like to read more about the term referendum check our previous post on Termcoord where you can find more information and definitions about it. Find also more information, details and the results provided by the IATE database.


Contribute to IATE! Update the term in your language. A terminologist for the respective language will revise your answer and decide whether to validate them. Given the implications of the process, a delay is to be expected.

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Written by Olga Jeczmyk: Translator-Interpreter, Social Media and Content Manager as well as Communication and Terminology Trainee. Terminology Coordination Unit of the European Parliament in Luxembourg.


  • Burton’s Legal Thesaurus, 4E. (2007) Definition of referendum. Available at: http://bit.ly/2gjJg6G (Accessed: 3o November 2016)
  • Harris, C. (2016) Renzi, reform and the paradox of Italy’s referendum. Available at: http://bit.ly/2g6r9ye (Accessed: 30 November 2016).
  • Merriam-Webster (2016) Definition of referendum. Available at: http://bit.ly/2fKW0PC (Accessed: 30 November 2016).
  • – (2016) Definition of constitution. Available at: http://bit.ly/2gk4IbU (Accessed: 30 November 2016).
  • The Economist (2016) Why Italy should vote no in its referendum. Available at: http://econ.st/2gJwMlF (Accessed: 30 November 2016).
  • West’s Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2 (2008) Definition of referendumAvailable at: http://bit.ly/2gjJg6G (Accessed: 3o November 2016)

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