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 fumbling

Contemporary Examples of fumbling

Historical Examples of fumbling

  • We are, on the contrary, fumbling and wallowing about where the Greek pondered and philosophized.

    'Tis Sixty Years Since

    Charles Francis Adams

  • He had taken his hand away from his breast, and was fumbling with it on the grass behind him.

    In the Valley

    Harold Frederic

  • "About fifty dollars, I think," said the travelling man, fumbling for his wallet.

    The Fortune Hunter

    Louis Joseph Vance

  • "I got it 'ere," responded the sailor hastily, fumbling with his tie.

    The Black Bag

    Louis Joseph Vance

  • In another instant, fumbling in the darkness, he found the bolts and drove them home.

    The Black Bag

    Louis Joseph Vance

British Dictionary definitions for fumbling



(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 fumbling



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