[kwahm, kwawm]


an uneasy feeling or pang of conscience as to conduct; compunction: He has no qualms about lying.
a sudden feeling of apprehensive uneasiness; misgiving: a sudden qualm about the success of the venture.
a sudden sensation or onset of faintness or illness, especially of nausea.

Origin of qualm

First recorded in 1520–30; origin uncertain
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for qualms

Contemporary Examples of qualms

Historical Examples of qualms

  • He feared the swordfish would ram us, and I had some qualms myself.

  • Personally I have no qualms of conscience about this piece of work.

    A Set of Six

    Joseph Conrad

  • They cheered her, and she put aside her qualms and her fears as best she was able.

  • The darkness veiled the ravine; to my astonishment I felt no qualms.

    In Kings' Byways

    Stanley J. Weyman

  • We have no qualms about yellow and white and the oriental intermediate hues.

    Adventures in the Arts

    Marsden Hartley

British Dictionary definitions for qualms



a sudden feeling of sickness or nausea
a pang or sudden feeling of doubt, esp concerning moral conduct; scruple
a sudden sensation of misgiving or unease
Derived Formsqualmish, adjectivequalmishly, adverbqualmishness, noun

Word Origin for qualm

Old English cwealm death or plague; related to Old High German qualm despair, Dutch kwalm smoke, stench
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 qualms

see qualm.



Old English cwealm (West Saxon) "death, murder, slaughter; disaster; plague; torment," utcualm (Anglian) "utter destruction," probably related to cwellan "to kill, murder, execute," cwelan "to die" (see quell). Sense softened to "feeling of faintness" 1520s; figurative meaning "uneasiness, doubt" is from 1550s; that of "scruple of conscience" is 1640s.

Evidence of a direct path from the Old English to the modern senses is wanting, but it is plausible, via the notion of "fit of sickness." The other suggested etymology, less satisfying, is to take the "fit of uneasiness" sense from Dutch kwalm "steam, vapor, mist" (cognate with German Qualm "smoke, vapor, stupor"), which also might be ultimately from the same Germanic root as quell.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper