[ feyt-l ]
/ ˈfeɪt l /
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Origin of fatal

First recorded in 1350–1400; Middle English or directly from Old French, from Latin fātālis “ordained by fate, decreed”; see origin at fate, -al1

synonym study for fatal

1. Fatal, deadly, lethal, mortal apply to something that has caused or is capable of causing death. Fatal may refer to either the future or the past; in either case, it emphasizes inevitability and the inescapable—the disastrous, whether death or dire misfortune: The accident was fatal. Such a mistake would be fatal. Deadly looks to the future, and suggests that which is likely to cause death (though not inevitably so): a deadly poison, disease. Like deadly, lethal looks to the future but, like many other words of Latin origin, suggests a more technical usage: a lethal dose; a gas that is lethal. Mortal looks to the past and refers to death that has actually occurred: He received a mortal wound. The disease proved to be mortal.



1. fatal , fateful2. fatal , fetal
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023


What does fatal mean?

Fatal literally means deadly—capable of causing death.

Similar words are deadly, lethal, and mortal—though they are often used in different ways.

Fatal can also be used in a figurative way to mean capable of causing the destruction, ruin, or failure of someone or something, as in Failing to update their products proved to be a fatal mistake for the company. 

Example: These changes will hopefully greatly reduce the number of fatal car accidents that occur on highways.

Where does fatal come from?

The first records of fatal in English come from the second half of the 1300s. It comes from the Latin fātālis, meaning “of fate.” Fatal was originally used in English to refer to things affected or doomed by fate—and it can still be used this way, though it is uncommon. It wasn’t until around the 1500s that fatal started to be used to refer to things that can cause death or ruin.

Most commonly, fatal is applied to things that can cause death, such as a fatal dose of drugs, or things that have resulted in death, such as a fatal accident. A mistake can be described as fatal if it literally causes someone to die. But the phrase fatal mistake more often refers to something that caused the destruction of something, as in The chaotic press conference ended up being fatal to the campaign. 

Fatal can mean “fateful,” but this is much less commonly used than its other senses. However, it is used in this way in the term fatalism, referring to a belief that everything is inevitable and determined by fate. Someone with such a view can be described as fatalistic.

Did you know ... ?

What are some other forms related to fatal?

  • fatally (adverb)
  • nonfatally (adverb)
  • fatalness (noun)
  • nonfatal (adjective)
  • nonfatalness (noun)

What are some synonyms for fatal?

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


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

How is fatal used in real life?

Fatal is most often used in a literal (and very serious) way to refer to something that caused or can cause death.



Try using fatal!

Which of the following words is NOT a synonym for fatal?

A. lethal
B. deadly
C. trivial
D. ruinous

How to use fatal in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for fatal

/ (ˈfeɪtəl) /

resulting in or capable of causing deatha fatal accident
bringing ruin; disastrous
decisively important; fateful
decreed by fate; destined; inevitable

Word Origin for fatal

C14: from Old French fatal or Latin fātālis, from fātum, see fate
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