A referendum (plural: referendums or less commonly referenda) is a direct vote in which an entire electorate is invited to vote on a particular proposal. This may result in the adoption of a new law. In some countries, it is synonymous with a plebiscite or a vote on a ballot question.

Some definitions of 'plebiscite' suggest that it is a type of vote to change the constitution or government of a country.[1] However, some other countries define it differently. For example, Australia defines 'referendum' as a vote to change the constitution, and 'plebiscite' as a vote that does not affect the constitution.[2] In Ireland, the vote to adopt its constitution was called a "plebiscite", but a subsequent vote to amend the constitution is called a 'referendum', and so is a poll of the electorate on a non-constitutional bill.

Etymology and plural form

'Referendum' is the gerundive form of the Latin verb refero, literally "to carry back" (from the verb fero, "to bear, bring, carry"[3] plus the inseparable preposition re-, here meaning "back".[4]) As a gerundive is an adjective,[5] not a noun,[6] it cannot be used alone in Latin and must be contained within a context attached to a noun such as Propositum qui referendum est populo, "A proposal which must be carried back to the people". The addition of the verb sum (3rd person singular, est) to a gerundive, denotes the idea of necessity or compulsion, that which "must" be done, rather than that which is "fit for" doing. Its use as a noun in English is thus not a strictly grammatical usage of a foreign word, but is rather a freshly coined English noun, which therefore follows English grammatical usage, not Latin grammatical usage. This determines the form of the plural in English, which according to English grammar should be "referendums". The use of "referenda" as a plural form in English (treating it as a Latin word and attempting to apply to it the rules of Latin grammar) is thus insupportable according to the rules of both Latin and English grammar alike. The use of "referenda" as a plural form is posited hypothetically as either a gerund or a gerundive by the Oxford English Dictionary, which rules out such usage in both cases as follows:[7]

Referendums is logically preferable as a plural form meaning 'ballots on one issue' (as a Latin gerund,[8] referendum has no plural). The Latin plural gerundive 'referenda', meaning 'things to be referred', necessarily connotes a plurality of issues".[9]

It is closely related to the political agenda, "those matters which must be driven forward", from ago, to drive (cattle); and the memorandum, "that matter which must be remembered", from memoro, to call to mind.

Other Languages
العربية: استفتاء عام
asturianu: Referendu
azərbaycanca: Referendum
Bân-lâm-gú: Kong-bîn tâu-phiò
беларуская: Рэферэндум
беларуская (тарашкевіца)‎: Рэфэрэндум
български: Референдум
bosanski: Referendum
català: Referèndum
čeština: Referendum
Cymraeg: Refferendwm
Deutsch: Referendum
eesti: Referendum
Ελληνικά: Δημοψήφισμα
español: Referéndum
Esperanto: Referendumo
euskara: Erreferendum
فارسی: همه‌پرسی
français: Référendum
Gaeilge: Reifreann
galego: Referendo
한국어: 국민투표
հայերեն: Հանրաքվե
hrvatski: Referendum
Bahasa Indonesia: Referendum
italiano: Referendum
עברית: משאל עם
Basa Jawa: Referendum
ಕನ್ನಡ: ಜನಮತಗಣನೆ
къарачай-малкъар: Референдум
ქართული: რეფერენდუმი
қазақша: Плебисцит
Kiswahili: Kura ya maoni
Кыргызча: Референдум
latviešu: Referendums
Lëtzebuergesch: Referendum
lietuvių: Referendumas
Limburgs: Referendum
lumbaart: Referendum
македонски: Референдум
മലയാളം: ഹിതപരിശോധന
Bahasa Melayu: Pungutan suara
မြန်မာဘာသာ: ဆန္ဒခံယူခြင်း
Nederlands: Volksraadpleging
日本語: 国民投票
norsk nynorsk: Folkerøysting
oʻzbekcha/ўзбекча: Referendum
پنجابی: ریفرنڈم
Papiamentu: Referéndum
polski: Referendum
português: Referendo
română: Referendum
русиньскый: Референдум
русский: Референдум
Scots: Referendum
sicilianu: Referendum
Simple English: Plebiscite
slovenčina: Referendum
slovenščina: Referendum
ślůnski: Absztimůng
کوردی: ڕێفراندۆم
српски / srpski: Референдум
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Referendum
Tagalog: Reperendum
Türkçe: Referandum
українська: Референдум
اردو: ریفرنڈم
vèneto: Referendum
Tiếng Việt: Trưng cầu dân ý
ייִדיש: רעפערענדום
粵語: 公投
Zazaki: Referandum
中文: 公民投票