[ ter-uh-buhl ]
/ ˈtɛr ə bəl /
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distressing; severe: a terrible winter.
extremely bad; horrible: terrible coffee; a terrible movie.
exciting terror, awe, or great fear; dreadful; awful.
formidably great: a terrible responsibility.


3 fearful, frightful, appalling, dire, horrible, horrifying, terrifying, horrendous, horrid.
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Origin of terrible

1400–50; late Middle English <Latin terribilis, equivalent to terr(ēre) to frighten + -ibilis-ible


ter·ri·ble·ness, nounun·ter·ri·ble, adjective
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023


What does terrible mean?

Terrible is commonly used to mean extremely bad—awful, dreadful, or horrible.

It can also mean severe, as in I have a terrible case of the flu. (Of course, this sense of the word often overlaps with its meaning of “extremely bad.”)

When it’s used to describe a person, terrible often means extremely disagreeable or cruel.

Terrible is also a somewhat formal way of describing something as having great power or being worthy of awe. This sense of terrible is especially used to describe supernatural power, as in The wizard is known to wield a terrible force with his staff. 

Much less commonly, terrible can mean literally causing terror, but the related word terrifying is much more commonly used to mean this.

Example: Everyone seems to like that restaurant, but I had a terrible experience there—bad food and even worse service.

Where does terrible come from?

The first records of the word terrible come from the 1400s. It comes from the Latin terribilis, which ultimately derives from the Latin verb terrēre, meaning “to frighten” or “to terrify.” Terrēre is also the basis of terrify, terrifying, terror, and terrific. (Unlike horrific, the word terrific is almost never used to mean “terrifying” or “horrifying”—it usually means “very good” or “intense.”)

Terrible is most popularly used to simply mean “really bad,” in much the same way that horrible and awful are often used, as in I had a terrible time at that party—no one would talk to me! It’s very rarely used to mean truly horrific or terrifying. Real-life horror-like violence can be described as terrible, but you wouldn’t call a horror movie terrible to mean it was really scary—you’d probably call it terrifying. If it was really stupid and poorly made, though, then you could call it terrible. (Unless it was so bad it was good, in which case you might call it terrific!)

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What are some other forms related to terrible?

What are some synonyms for terrible?

What are some words that share a root or word element with terrible


What are some words that often get used in discussing terrible?


How is terrible used in real life?

The word terrible is very common. It’s usually used negatively.



Try using terrible!

Which of the following words is NOT a synonym of terrible?

A. awful
B. horrible
C. lousy
D. lovely

How to use terrible in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for terrible

/ (ˈtɛrəbəl) /

very serious or extremea terrible cough
informal of poor quality; unpleasant or bada terrible meal; a terrible play
causing terror
causing awethe terrible nature of God

Derived forms of terrible

terribleness, noun

Word Origin for terrible

C15: from Latin terribilis, from terrēre to terrify
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