fall foul/afoul of,
    1. to collide with, as ships.
    2. to come into conflict with; quarrel.
    3. to make an attack; assault.
    foul one's nest, to dishonor one's own home, family, or the like.
    run foul/afoul of, to come into collision or controversy with: to run foul of the press.

Origin of foul

before 900; (adj. and noun) Middle English ful, foul, Old English fūl; cognate with Gothic fuls, Old Norse fūll, Old High German fūl; akin to Latin pūs pus, pūtēre to stink, Greek pýon pus; (adv.) Middle English fule, foule, derivative of the adj.; (v.) Middle English fulen, derivative of the adj.
Related formsfoul·ly, adverbo·ver·foul, adjectiveo·ver·foul·ly, adverbo·ver·foul·ness, nounun·foul, adjectiveun·foul·ly, adverbun·fouled, adjective
Can be confusedfoul fowl

Synonyms for foul

1. repulsive, repellent. 2. fetid, putrid, stinking. 3. unclean, polluted, sullied, soiled, stained, tainted, impure. 6. rainy, tempestuous. 7. adverse. 9. base, shameful, infamous. 10. smutty, vulgar, coarse, low. 24. sully, stain, dirty, besmirch, taint, pollute. 28. shame.

Synonym study

3. See dirty.

Antonyms for foul

1. pleasant. 3, 24. clean. 5, 6. clear. Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for fouled

Contemporary Examples of fouled

Historical Examples of fouled

  • It was the dead man's sacret too, and she's fouled the ould man's memory.

    The Manxman

    Hall Caine

  • He let two wide ones pass, and fouled when a bender cut a corner.

  • Certainly, five men at least were living before we fouled the ice.

    The Frozen Pirate

    W. Clark Russell

  • Or if the ice on which she floated, fouled some other berg it might cost us all our spars.

    The Frozen Pirate

    W. Clark Russell

  • Something had fouled her, and she had failed, for Corinne swept by at that moment.

    A Little Miss Nobody

    Amy Bell Marlowe

British Dictionary definitions for fouled



offensive to the senses; revolting
offensive in odour; stinking
charged with or full of dirt or offensive matter; filthy
(of food) putrid; rotten
morally or spiritually offensive; wicked; vile
obscene; vulgarfoul language
not in accordance with accepted standards or established rules; unfairto resort to foul means
(esp of weather) unpleasant or adverse
blocked or obstructed with dirt or foreign mattera foul drain
entangled or impededa foul anchor
(of the bottom of a vessel) covered with barnacles and other growth that slow forward motion
informal unsatisfactory or uninteresting; bada foul book
archaic ugly


  1. a violation of the rules
  2. (as modifier)a foul shot; a foul blow
something foul
an entanglement or collision, esp in sailing or fishing


to make or become dirty or polluted
to become or cause to become entangled or snarled
(tr) to disgrace or dishonour
to become or cause to become clogged or choked
(tr) nautical (of underwater growth) to cling to (the bottom of a vessel) so as to slow its motion
(tr) sport to commit a foul against (an opponent)
(tr) baseball to hit (a ball) in an illegal manner
(intr) sport to infringe the rules
(tr) (of an animal, especially a dog) to defecate ondo not let your dog foul the footpath
to collide with (a boat, etc)


in a foul or unfair manner
fall foul of
  1. to come into conflict with
  2. nauticalto come into collision with
See also foul up
Derived Formsfoully, adverb

Word Origin for foul

Old English fūl; related to Old Norse fūll, Gothic fūls smelling offensively, Latin pūs pus, Greek puol pus
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 fouled



Old English ful "rotten, unclean, vile, corrupt, offensive to the senses," from Proto-Germanic *fulaz (cf. Old Saxon and Old Frisian ful, Middle Dutch voul, Dutch vuil, Old High German fül, German faul, Gothic füls), from root *fu-, corresponding to PIE *pu-, perhaps from the sound made in reaction to smelling something bad (cf. Sanskrit puyati "rots, stinks," putih "foul, rotten;" Greek puon "discharge from a sore;" Latin pus "putrid matter," putere "to stink," putridus "rotten;" Lithuanian puviu "to rot").

Old English ful occasionally meant "ugly" (as contrasted with fæger (adj.), modern fair (adj.)), a sense frequently found in Middle English, and the cognate in Swedish is the usual word for "ugly." Of weather, first recorded late 14c. In the sporting sense of "irregular, unfair" it is first attested 1797, though foul play is recorded from mid-15c. Baseball sense of "out of play" attested by 1860. Foulmart was a Middle English word for "polecat" (from Old English mearð "marten").



Old English fulian "to become foul, rot," from ful (see foul (adj.)). Related: Fouled; fouling.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

Idioms and Phrases with fouled


In addition to the idioms beginning with foul

  • foul one's nest
  • foul play
  • foul up

also see:

  • run afoul of
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.