• synonyms


[aw-fuh l]
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  1. extremely bad; unpleasant; ugly: awful paintings; an awful job.
  2. inspiring fear; dreadful; terrible: an awful noise.
  3. solemnly impressive; inspiring awe: the awful majesty of alpine peaks.
  4. full of awe; reverential.
  5. extremely dangerous, risky, injurious, etc.: That was an awful fall she had. He took an awful chance by driving here so fast.
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  1. Informal. very; extremely: He did an awful good job of painting the barn. It's awful hot in here.
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Origin of awful

1200–50; Middle English a(g)heful, aueful; see awe, -ful; replacing Old English egefull dreadful
Related formsaw·ful·ness, nounqua·si-aw·ful, adjectivequa·si-aw·ful·ly, adverbun·aw·ful, adjectiveun·aw·ful·ness, noun
Can be confusedawful awesome offal (see usage note at the current entry)

Usage note

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

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British Dictionary definitions for awful


  1. very bad; unpleasant
  2. archaic inspiring reverence or dread
  3. archaic overcome with awe; reverential
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  1. not standard (intensifier)an awful cold day
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Derived Formsawfulness, noun

Word Origin

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


c.1300, agheful "worthy of respect or fear," from aghe, an earlier form of awe (n.), + -ful. Replaced Old English egefull. Weakened sense "very bad" is from 1809; weakened sense of "exceedingly" is by 1818.

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Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper