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  1. coming, appearing, acting, etc., in fits or by spells; recurring irregularly.
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Origin of fitful

First recorded in 1595–1605; fit2 + -ful
Related formsfit·ful·ly, adverbfit·ful·ness, noun


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Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

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Examples from the Web for fitful

Contemporary Examples

Historical Examples

  • So we waited, with only a decent pretence of interest in the fitful talk.

    In the Valley

    Harold Frederic

  • Twice more in all; but, the last spell of work was feeble and fitful.

    A Tale of Two Cities

    Charles Dickens

  • With these gloomy thoughts he fell at last into fitful slumber.

    Slaves of Mercury

    Nat Schachner

  • Though he lay down in the entrance and slept, his sleep was fitful.

    White Fang

    Jack London

  • Occasionally it was fitful, and when summoned by irony remained at a distance.

    A Spirit in Prison

    Robert Hichens

British Dictionary definitions for fitful


  1. characterized by or occurring in irregular spellsfitful sleep
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Derived Formsfitfully, adverbfitfulness, 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

Word Origin and History for fitful


used once by Shakespeare ("Macbeth," 1605) in sense of "characterized by fits," then revived by Scott (1810) with a sense of "shifting, changing." From fit (n.2) + -ful. Related: Fitfully; fitfulness.

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Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper