dependent on circumstances beyond one's control; uncertain; unstable; insecure: a precarious livelihood.
dependent on the will or pleasure of another; liable to be withdrawn or lost at the will of another: He held a precarious tenure under an arbitrary administration.
exposed to or involving danger; dangerous; perilous; risky: the precarious life of an underseas diver.
having insufficient, little, or no foundation: a precarious assumption.

Origin of precarious

First recorded in 1640–50, precarious is from the Latin word precārius “obtained by entreaty or mere favor” (hence uncertain). See prayer1
Related formspre·car·i·ous·ly, adverbpre·car·i·ous·ness, nounsu·per·pre·car·i·ous, adjectivesu·per·pre·car·i·ous·ly, adverbsu·per·pre·car·i·ous·ness, nounun·pre·car·i·ous, adjectiveun·pre·car·i·ous·ly, adverbun·pre·car·i·ous·ness, noun

Synonyms for precarious

Synonym study

1. See uncertain.

Antonyms for precarious Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for precarious

Contemporary Examples of precarious

Historical Examples of precarious

  • In any case, it was evident that Italian opera was a precarious enterprise.


    Edward J. Dent

  • Never had he been so fond of this body of his as now when his tenure of it was so precarious.

    White Fang

    Jack London

  • Our agriculture is precarious, and 27 every carrot is bought by the sweat of our brow.

    Mountain Meditations

    L. Lind-af-Hageby

  • Such grounds are precarious, as arguments from style and plan are apt to be (Greek).

  • But all this is precarious, and will change with your fortune.

British Dictionary definitions for precarious



liable to failure or catastrophe; insecure; perilous
archaic dependent on another's will
Derived Formsprecariously, adverbprecariousness, noun

Word Origin for precarious

C17: from Latin precārius obtained by begging (hence, dependent on another's will), from prex prayer 1
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 precarious

1640s, a legal word, "held through the favor of another," from Latin precarius "obtained by asking or praying," from prex (genitive precis) "entreaty, prayer" (see pray). Notion of "dependent on the will of another" led to extended sense "risky, dangerous, uncertain" (1680s). "No word is more unskillfully used than this with its derivatives. It is used for uncertain in all its senses; but it only means uncertain, as dependent on others ..." [Johnson]. Related: Precariously; precariousness.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper