adverb, adjective

in a state of collision or entanglement: a ship with its shrouds afoul.


    run/come/fall afoul of,
    1. to become entangled with: The boat ran afoul of the seaweed.
    2. to come into conflict with: The business had fallen afoul of the new government regulations.

Origin of afoul

An Americanism dating back to 1800–10; a-1 + foul Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for afoul

Historical Examples of afoul

  • He must have got afoul of the enemy's horse, and been obliged to beat it off.

    The Brigade Commander

    J. W. Deforest

  • If, like me, you can't pole a punt its length without running into a mud-bank or afoul of the bushes, then send for Fin.

    The Underdog

    F. Hopkinson Smith

  • One would think that they were afraid the old earth itself might be buffeted off its course and fall afoul of neighboring planets.

    Journeys to Bagdad

    Charles S. Brooks

  • They were so thick that many appeared to be afoul of one another; now all standing on this tack, now on that.

    Cape Cod

    Henry D. Thoreau

  • Yes, marm; but 'tain't there now—the cattle got afoul of the pillar of salt one day, and licked it all up!

    The Humors of Falconbridge

    Jonathan F. Kelley

British Dictionary definitions for afoul


adverb, adjective (postpositive)

(usually foll by of) in or into a state of difficulty, confusion, or conflict (with)
(often foll by of) in or into an entanglement or collision (with) (often in the phrase run afoul of)a yacht with its sails afoul; the boat ran afoul of a steamer
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 afoul

"entangled," 1809, originally nautical, now mainly in phrase to run afoul of; from a- (1) + foul.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper