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unstable

[uhn-stey-buh l]
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adjective
  1. not stable; not firm or firmly fixed; unsteady.
  2. liable to fall or sway.
  3. unsteadfast; inconstant; wavering: unstable convictions.
  4. marked by emotional instability: an unstable person.
  5. irregular in movement: an unstable heartbeat.
  6. Chemistry. noting compounds that readily decompose or change into other compounds.

Origin of unstable

Middle English word dating back to 1175–1225; see origin at un-1, stable2
Related formsun·sta·ble·ness, nounun·sta·bly, adverb

Synonyms

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2. precarious. 2, 3. See unsettled. 3. vacillating.
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Examples from the Web for unstable

Contemporary Examples

Historical Examples

  • All his weight was on one foot, and he was in a state of unstable equilibrium.

    White Fang

    Jack London

  • Yes, indeed, yes; I know she's as unstable as water and as hard to hold as a puff of wind.

    The Christian

    Hall Caine

  • Moral standards are as unstable as the shifting sands of the sea.

  • We can see here very clearly how unstable a thing polytheism is.

  • They are unstable, improvident, easily discouraged, easily led astray.


British Dictionary definitions for unstable

unstable

adjective
  1. lacking stability, fixity, or firmness
  2. disposed to temperamental, emotional, or psychological variability
  3. (of a chemical compound) readily decomposing
  4. physics
    1. (of an elementary particle) having a very short lifetime
    2. spontaneously decomposing by nuclear decay; radioactivean unstable nuclide
  5. electronics (of an electrical circuit, mechanical body, etc) having a tendency to self-oscillation
Derived Formsunstableness, noununstably, adverb
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 unstable

adj.

early 13c., "apt to move," from un- (1) "not" + stable (adj.). Cf. Middle High German unstabel. Meaning "liable to fall" is recorded from c.1300; sense of "fickle" is attested from late 13c. An Old English word for this was feallendlic, which might have become *fally.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

unstable in Science

unstable

[ŭn-stābəl]
  1. Liable to undergo spontaneous decay into some other form. For example, the nucleus of uranium 238 atom is unstable and changes by radioactive decay into the nucleus of thorium 234, a lighter element. Many subatomic particles, such as muons and neutrons, are unstable and decay quickly into other particles. See more at decay.
  2. Relating to a chemical compound that readily decomposes or changes into other compounds or into elements.
  3. Relating to an atom or chemical element that is likely to share electrons; reactive.
  4. Characterized by uncertain or inadequate response to treatment and the potential for unfavorable outcome, as the status of a medical condition or disease.
The American Heritage® Science Dictionary Copyright © 2011. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

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