verb (used without object), fum·bled, fum·bling.

to feel or grope about clumsily: She fumbled in her purse for the keys.
Sports. to fumble the ball.

verb (used with object), fum·bled, fum·bling.

to make, handle, etc., clumsily or inefficiently: to fumble an attempt; He fumbled his way through the crowded room.
Sports. to fail to hold or maintain hold on (a ball) after having touched it or carried it.


the act of fumbling: We completed the difficult experiment without a fumble.
Sports. an act or instance of fumbling the ball.

Origin of fumble

1500–10; akin to Norwegian, Swedish fumla, Middle Low German fummeln to grope, fumble
Related formsfum·bler, nounfum·bling·ly, adverbfum·bling·ness, nounout·fum·ble, verb (used with object), out·fum·bled, out·fum·bling.un·fum·bled, adjectiveun·fum·bling, adjective

Synonyms for fumble

Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for fumble

Contemporary Examples of fumble

Historical Examples of fumble

  • The girl's face flushed, and she began to fumble the shawl nervously with her fingers.

    The Underdog

    F. Hopkinson Smith

  • He began to fumble presently for his Bible,—he must have some help.

  • He had promised me faithfully not to fumble with his cravat, and evidently he had not once stirred.

    Ruggles of Red Gap

    Harry Leon Wilson

  • No language except the chaos we fumble with could make it possible.

    In a Little Town

    Rupert Hughes

  • I heard him murmur something about the servants and fumble for the switch.

    The Misplaced Battleship

    Harry Harrison (AKA Henry Maxwell Dempsey)

British Dictionary definitions for fumble



(intr; often foll by for or with) to grope about clumsily or blindly, esp in searchinghe was fumbling in the dark for the money he had dropped
(intr; foll by at or with) to finger or play with, esp in an absent-minded way
to say or do hesitantly or awkwardlyhe fumbled the introduction badly
to fail to catch or grasp (a ball, etc) cleanly


the act of fumbling
Derived Formsfumbler, nounfumblingly, adverbfumblingness, noun

Word Origin for fumble

C16: probably of Scandinavian origin; related to Swedish fumla
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 fumble

mid-15c., "handle clumsily," possibly from Old Norse falma "to fumble, grope." Similar words in Scandinavian and North Sea Germanic suggest onomatopoeia from a sound felt to indicate clumsiness (cf. bumble, stumble, and obsolete English famble, fimble of roughly the same meaning). Related: Fumbled; fumbling.


1640s, from fumble (v.).

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper