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adjective pre·car·i·ous \pri-ˈker-ē-əs\

Simple Definition of precarious

  • : not safe, strong, or steady

Source: Merriam-Webster's Learner's Dictionary

Full Definition of precarious

  1. 1 :  depending on the will or pleasure of another

  2. 2 :  dependent on uncertain premises :  dubious <precarious generalizations>

  3. 3 a :  dependent on chance circumstances, unknown conditions, or uncertain developments b :  characterized by a lack of security or stability that threatens with danger

precariously adverb
precariousness noun

Examples of precarious in a sentence

  1. These states are corrupt and brutal. They are theocracies, or precarious autocracies, or secular totalitarian states: tyrannies all, deniers of freedom, republics of fear, enemies of civility and human flourishing. —Ramesh Ponnuru, National Review, 15 Oct. 2001

  2. Such folks led a precarious existence, their homes routinely destroyed in pursuit of a scorched earth policy whenever Florence came under siege. —R.W.B. Lewis, Dante, 2001

  3. She was the first baby he had ever held; he had thought it would be a precarious experience, shot through with fear of dropping something so precious and fragile, but no, in even the smallest infant there was an adhesive force, a something that actively fit your arms and hands, banishing the fear. —John Updike, The Afterlife, 1994

  4. He earned a precarious livelihood by gambling.

  5. The strong wind almost knocked him off of his precarious perch on the edge of the cliff.

Did You Know?

This little happiness is so very precarious, that it wholly depends on the will of others. Joseph Addison, in a 1711 issue of Spectator magazine, couldn't have described the oldest sense of precarious more precisely-the original meaning of the word was "depending on the will or pleasure of another." Prayers and entreaties directed at that "other" might or might not help, but what precariousness really hangs on, in the end, is prex, the Latin word for prayer. From prex came the Latin word precarius, meaning "obtained by entreaty," from whence came our own adjective precarious. Anglo-French priere, also from precarius, gave us prayer.

Origin of precarious

Latin precarius obtained by entreaty, uncertain — more at prayer

First Known Use: 1646

Synonym Discussion of precarious

dangerous, hazardous, precarious, perilous, risky mean bringing or involving the chance of loss or injury. dangerous applies to something that may cause harm or loss unless dealt with carefully <soldiers on a dangerous mission>. hazardous implies great and continuous risk of harm or failure <claims that smoking is hazardous to your health>. precarious suggests both insecurity and uncertainty <earned a precarious living by gambling>. perilous strongly implies the immediacy of danger <perilous mountain roads>. risky often applies to a known and accepted danger <shied away from risky investments>.

PRECARIOUS Defined for Kids


adjective pre·car·i·ous \pri-ˈker-ē-əs\

Definition of precarious for Students

  1. :  not safe, strong, or steady <precarious balance> <a precarious journey>

precariously adverb

Law Dictionary


adjective pre·car·i·ous \pri-ˈkar-ē-əs\

Legal Definition of precarious

  1. :  depending on the will or pleasure of another — see also precarious possession at possession

Seen and Heard

What made you want to look up precarious? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


to expose to danger or risk

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