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  1. affected with, causing, or characterized by pain: a painful wound; a painful night; a painful memory.
  2. laborious; exacting; difficult: a painful life.
  3. Archaic. painstaking; careful.

Origin of painful

Middle English word dating back to 1300–50; see origin at pain, -ful
Related formspain·ful·ly, adverbpain·ful·ness, nouno·ver·pain·ful, adjectiveo·ver·pain·ful·ly, adverbo·ver·pain·ful·ness, nounun·pain·ful, adjectiveun·pain·ful·ly, adverb

Synonyms for painful

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1. distressing, torturing, agonizing, tormenting, excruciating. 2. arduous.

Antonyms for painful

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

Examples from the Web for painful

Contemporary Examples of painful

Historical Examples of painful

British Dictionary definitions for painful


  1. causing pain; distressinga painful duty
  2. affected with paina painful leg
  3. tedious or difficult
  4. informal extremely bada painful performance
Derived Formspainfully, adverbpainfulness, 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 painful

mid-14c., from pain (n.) + -ful. Related: Painfully; painfulness.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper