General English

  • noun something that someone does regularly



  • noun the practice of doing something regularly



  • noun an addiction, a ‘drug habit’. A drug-user and law enforcers’ term, sometimes extended to refer to more innocuous addictions.

Origin & History of “habit”

Etymologically, a habit is ‘what one has’. The word comes via Old French abit from Latin habitus, originally the past participle of the verb habēre ‘have’. This was used reflexively for ‘be’, and so the past participle came to be used as a noun for ‘how one is’ – one’s ‘state’ or ‘condition’. Subsequently this developed along the lines of both ‘outward condition or appearance’, hence ‘clothing’, and ‘inner condition, quality, nature, character’, later ‘usual way of behaving’. This proliferation of meaning took place in Latin, and was taken over lock, stock, and barrel by English, although the ‘clothing’ sense now survives only in relation to monks, nuns, and horseriders. (Incidentally, the notion of adapting the verb have to express ‘how one is, how one comports oneself’ recurs in behave.)

Derived from Latin habitus was the verb habitāre, originally literally ‘have something frequently or habitually’, hence ‘live in a place’. This has given English habitation (14th c.), inhabit (14th c.), and also habitat (18th c.), literally ‘it dwells’, the third person present singular of habitāre, which was used in medieval and Renaissance books on natural history to describe the sort of place in which a particular species lived.

Malady (13th c.) comes via Old French from an unrecorded vulgar Latin *male habitus ‘in bad condition’.