[ dred-fuhl ]
/ ˈdrɛd fəl /
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See synonyms for: dreadful / dreadfulness on Thesaurus.com

causing great dread, fear, or terror; terrible: a dreadful storm.
inspiring awe or reverence.
extremely bad, unpleasant, or ugly: dreadful cooking; a dreadful hat.
noun British.
a periodical given to highly sensational matter.
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Origin of dreadful

First recorded in 1175–1225, dreadful is from the Middle English word dredful.See dread, -ful


dread·ful·ness, nounquasi-dreadful, adjectivequa·si-dread·ful·ly, adverb
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2022


What does dreadful mean?

Dreadful most commonly means extremely bad, unpleasant, or ugly.

Less commonly, it can also mean causing great fear or terror, which makes sense because dreadful is the adjective form of the noun dread, meaning fear.

Dreadful can also be used as an intensifier (a word that makes the meaning of the word it modifies more intense) in much the same way that awful can, as in You took a dreadful long time getting time. In cases like this, neither awful nor dreadful mean bad, but they are typically used in negative situations as opposed to positive ones.

Dreadful can also be used in a more specific way as a shortened form of the term penny dreadful, the name for inexpensive illustrated books featuring violent action that were popular in Britain during the mid- and late-1800s.

Example: My throat hurts, my head’s pounding, I’ve got the chills—I feel absolutely dreadful.

Where does dreadful come from?

The first records of dreadful come from around 1200. It comes from the Middle English dredful. The word dread can be a noun meaning “fear” or a verb meaning “to fear.” The suffix -ful, means “full of,” makes it into an adjective.

Dreadful is one of the many words based on terms that relate to fear that are now simply used to mean “really bad.” Many of these words can be used as synonyms of dreadful, including horrible, horrid, horrendous (all related to the word horror), and terrible (related to terror). In this way, dreadful is often used as a harsh criticism, as in I’m sorry about my dreadful cooking or That movie was dreadful—I wanted to leave halfway through. In this sense, the word awful is a close synonym.

The word dread refers to terror but it can also refer to apprehension, as in I always have a strong sense of dread before I take a test. However, if you wanted to describe the test as “causing apprehension,” you wouldn’t use the adjective dreadful. Instead, you’d used the adjective dreaded.

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What are some other forms of dreadful?

What are some synonyms for dreadful?

What are some words that share a root or word element with dreadful



What are some words that often get used in discussing dreadful?

How is dreadful used in real life?

In modern conversation, the word dreadful is most often used to describe something that’s just plain bad, as opposed to something that causes fear. 



Try using dreadful!

Which of the following words would NOT be used to describe something considered dreadful?

A. grim
B. terrible
C. hideous
D. wonderful

How to use dreadful in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for dreadful

/ (ˈdrɛdfʊl) /

extremely disagreeable, shocking, or badwhat a dreadful play
(intensifier)this is a dreadful waste of time
causing dread; terrifying
archaic inspiring awe

Derived forms of dreadful

dreadfulness, 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