such as to cause fright; dreadful, terrible, or alarming: A frightful howl woke us.
horrible, shocking, or revolting: The storm did frightful damage.
Informal. unpleasant; disagreeable: We had a frightful time.
Informal. very great; extreme: That actor is very talented but a frightful ham.

Origin of frightful

Middle English word dating back to 1200–50; see origin at fright, -ful
Related formsfright·ful·ly, adverbfright·ful·ness, nounun·fright·ful, adjective

Synonyms for frightful

Antonyms for frightful

1, 2. delightful. Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for frightful

Contemporary Examples of frightful

Historical Examples of frightful

  • All her thought was how to get him away from the frightful place.

    Weighed and Wanting

    George MacDonald

  • It was rather a frightful place to go into in search of the source of a shriek.

    Weighed and Wanting

    George MacDonald

  • There was a frightful grin of triumph twisting his mouth in this minute of punishment.

    Within the Law

    Marvin Dana

  • Down almost to our own day the depredations of wolves were frightful.

    The Roof of France

    Matilda Betham-Edwards

  • For about five minutes it was the most frightful scene I have ever witnessed.


    Scian Dubh

British Dictionary definitions for frightful



very alarming, distressing, or horrifying
unpleasant, annoying, or extremea frightful hurry
Derived Formsfrightfulness, 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 frightful

mid-13c., "timid;" c.1600 "alarming;" from fright + -ful. In common with most -ful adjectives, it once had both an active and passive sense. Meaning "dreadful, horrible, shocking" (often hyperbolic) is attested from c.1700; Johnson noted it as "a cant word among women for anything unpleasing." Related: Frightfully.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper