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[frahyt-fuh l] /ˈfraɪt fəl/
such as to cause fright; dreadful, terrible, or alarming:
A frightful howl woke us.
horrible, shocking, or revolting:
The storm did frightful damage.
Informal. unpleasant; disagreeable:
We had a frightful time.
Informal. very great; extreme:
That actor is very talented but a frightful ham.
Origin of frightful
Middle English word dating back to 1200-50; See origin at fright, -ful
Related forms
frightfully, adverb
frightfulness, noun
unfrightful, adjective
1. fearful, awful. 2. hideous, dread, horrid, ghastly; gruesome.
1, 2. delightful. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2017.
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Examples from the Web for frightful
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • All her thought was how to get him away from the frightful place.

    Weighed and Wanting George MacDonald
  • It was rather a frightful place to go into in search of the source of a shriek.

    Weighed and Wanting George MacDonald
  • There was a frightful grin of triumph twisting his mouth in this minute of punishment.

    Within the Law Marvin Dana
  • Down almost to our own day the depredations of wolves were frightful.

    The Roof of France Matilda Betham-Edwards
  • For about five minutes it was the most frightful scene I have ever witnessed.

    Ridgeway Scian Dubh
  • This was a very odd and frightful sort of figure, as you may well believe.

    The Three Golden Apples Nathaniel Hawthorne
  • And if I obeyed, to what delightful discoveries or frightful dangers might it lead?

    Green Mansions W. H. Hudson
British Dictionary definitions for frightful


very alarming, distressing, or horrifying
unpleasant, annoying, or extreme: a frightful hurry
Derived Forms
frightfulness, noun
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
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Word Origin and History for frightful

mid-13c., "timid;" c.1600 "alarming;" from fright + -ful. In common with most -ful adjectives, it once had both an active and passive sense. Meaning "dreadful, horrible, shocking" (often hyperbolic) is attested from c.1700; Johnson noted it as "a cant word among women for anything unpleasing." Related: Frightfully.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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