Origin of dreadful
OTHER WORDS FROM dreadfuldread·ful·ness, nounquasi-dreadful, adjectivequa·si-dread·ful·ly, adverb
Words nearby dreadful
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.
Did you know ... ?
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.
I really wanted to like Picard but the script was dreadful
— Dan Salt (@danieljohnsalt) April 26, 2020
#STLCards defense, amazingly improved from 2018 and very good this year, has been simply dreadful today in Game 4, a potential elimination game for them
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) October 7, 2019
On behalf of the Royal Thai Government and people of the Kingdom of Thailand, I wish to express our deepest condolences for this dreadful event. Our deepest sympathies go to the families of those innocent people who lost their lives as well as those who were injured.
— ประยุทธ์ จันทร์โอชา Prayut Chan-o-cha (@prayutofficial) March 16, 2019
Try using dreadful!
Which of the following words would NOT be used to describe something considered dreadful?
How to use dreadful in a sentence
I guess the reason it needs a lot of chocolate is the actual cookie is rather dreadful.Who makes the best chocolate chip cookie? We tasted 14 top brands and ranked them.|Matt Brooks|December 4, 2020|Washington Post
As a glasses-noob suffering from the dreadful fog myself, I turned to the internet for answers.The best ways to stop a mask from fogging up your glasses, ranked|Sandra Gutierrez G.|November 18, 2020|Popular-Science
She is a threat to its isolation, its purity, and its unknowable and dreadful secrets.Gothic novels are obsessed with borders. Mexican Gothic takes full advantage.|Constance Grady|October 16, 2020|Vox
If there were to be any sort of silver lining to dreadful circumstances, this was it.
Toronto’s offense checks in just outside the top 10 for the full season, and it’s been dreadful during the restart.The Raptors’ Defense Is Almost Never The Same, But It’s Always Really Good|Jared Dubin|August 17, 2020|FiveThirtyEight
Is there a more dreadful sensation than that of your stomach wringing itself out like a washcloth?
He looked, that dreadful afternoon, as if he had just come from his barber, tailor and haberdasher.The Stacks: H.L. Mencken on the 1904 Baltimore Fire|H.L. Mencken|October 4, 2014|DAILY BEAST
In the novel, the moral situation Frances ends up in is dreadful.Sarah Waters: Queen of the Tortured Lesbian Romance|Tim Teeman|September 30, 2014|DAILY BEAST
Any of the three on its own would have been dreadful enough.American Statesmanship Is Depressingly MIA on Border Kids, MH17 & Gaza|Michael Tomasky|July 21, 2014|DAILY BEAST
There are some hopeful elements in an otherwise dreadful day for human rights.At the United Nations, It’s Human Rights, Putin-Style|Jay Michaelson|June 26, 2014|DAILY BEAST
The conflict in Tom's puzzled heart sharpened that evening into dreadful edges that cut him mercilessly whichever way he turned.The Wave|Algernon Blackwood
He could not bear to open his dreadful situation to his Uncle David, nor to kill himself, nor to defy the vengeance of Longcluse.Checkmate|Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu
At other times they have a dreadful look of being fibs invented for the purpose of covering a fault.Children's Ways|James Sully
Nevertheless, this world of mankind to-day seems to me to be a very sinister and dreadful world.The Salvaging Of Civilisation|H. G. (Herbert George) Wells
She had wakened up in the night, and perceived with dreadful clearness that trouble lay in front of her.Hilda Lessways|Arnold Bennett