- extremely bad; unpleasant; ugly: awful paintings; an awful job.
- inspiring fear; dreadful; terrible: an awful noise.
- solemnly impressive; inspiring awe: the awful majesty of alpine peaks.
- full of awe; reverential.
- extremely dangerous, risky, injurious, etc.: That was an awful fall she had. He took an awful chance by driving here so fast.
- Informal. very; extremely: He did an awful good job of painting the barn. It's awful hot in here.
Origin of awful
Although some object to any use of awful or awfully in any sense not connected with a feeling of awe, both have been used in other senses for several centuries. Awful and awfully as adverbial intensifiers— awful ( ly ) hot; awful ( ly ) cold —appear in the early 19th century, following much the same pattern as horribly and dreadfully. As an adverb awful is less formal in tone than awfully. In the sense “inspiring awe or fear” awesome has largely replaced awful.
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018
Examples from the Web for awful
The simple, awful truth is that free speech has never been particularly popular in America.How the PC Police Threaten Free Speech
January 9, 2015
However, not all awful, astoundingly dumb political memes are created equal.Political Memes That Absolutely Must Die in 2015
January 1, 2015
The results were awful: marked osteoporosis in the spine, hip, and femur.You’re Never ‘Cured’ of an Eating Disorder
December 20, 2014
Soon all the world will see what an awful movie Sony Pictures Entertainment has made.Sony Hackers Issue 9/11 Warning
December 16, 2014
On and offline, offenses ranged from awful Tinder messages to violent threats on Twitter to street stalking.10 Things That Made Us Want to Turn Off the Internet Forever in 2014
The Daily Beast
December 15, 2014
Phœbus protect me, but this is an awful place to speak of those who sleep.Philothea
Lydia Maria Child
"I think it's just awful—at his time of life, too," said Mrs. Bines.The Spenders
Harry Leon Wilson
It was awful to reflect how many sermons must have been written there.The Old Manse (From "Mosses From An Old Manse")
It was awful to Harriett that her father should be ill, lying there at their mercy.
The awful thing was that she couldn't love him, couldn't go on being faithful.
- very bad; unpleasant
- archaic inspiring reverence or dread
- archaic overcome with awe; reverential
- not standard (intensifier)an awful cold day
C13: see awe, -ful
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
Word Origin and History for awful
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper