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adjective se·vere \sə-ˈvir\

Simple Definition of severe

  • : very bad, serious, or unpleasant

  • : causing a lot of physical pain or suffering

  • : very harsh

Full Definition of severe


  1. 1a :  strict in judgment, discipline, or governmentb :  of a strict or stern bearing or manner :  austere

  2. 2 :  rigorous in restraint, punishment, or requirement :  stringent

  3. 3 :  strongly critical or condemnatory <a severe critic>

  4. 4a :  maintaining a scrupulously exacting standard of behavior or self-disciplineb :  establishing exacting standards of accuracy and integrity in intellectual processes <a severe logician>

  5. 5 :  sober or restrained in decoration or manner :  plain <a severe dress>

  6. 6a :  causing discomfort or hardship :  harsh <severe winters>b :  very painful or harmful <a severe wound>

  7. 7 :  requiring great effort :  arduous <a severe test>

  8. 8 :  of a great degree <severe depression>

se·vere·ly adverb
se·vere·ness noun
se·ver·i·ty play \sə-ˈver-ə-tē\ noun

Examples of severe

  1. On Feb. 25 regulators laid out details on how they will run the “stress tests” that Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner has promised on the biggest banks. Now those tests, designed to judge whether the banks have the capital to keep lending and absorb losses in a severe recession, face an exam of their own. —Jane Sasseen et al., Business Week, 9 Mar. 2009

  2. A study in February in the journal Lancet, for instance, compared treatments for severe ankle sprains, concluding that a below-the-knee cast is superior to a tubular compression bandage. —Sharon Begley, Newsweek, 9 Mar. 2009

  3. Between 2000 and 2004 the number of Americans covered by Medicaid rose by a remarkable eight million. Over the same period the ranks of the uninsured rose by six million. So without the growth of Medicaid, the uninsured population would have exploded, and we'd be facing a severe crisis in medical care. —Paul Krugman et al., New York Review of Books, 23 Mar. 2006

  4. As several economists—most notably Jeffrey Williamson, of Harvard University—have written recently, international trade increased dramatically between 1850 and the First World War. Williamson goes on to point out that one consequence of this earlier period of globalization was that governments retreated into policies of severe trade and immigration restrictions. —Nicholas Lemann, New Yorker, 10 May 1999

  5. The storm caused severe damage to the roof.

  6. The patient is in severe pain.

  7. children with severe learning disabilities

  8. In the most severe cases, the disease can lead to blindness.

  9. He suffered a severe head injury.

  10. He faces severe penalties for his actions.

  11. The war was a severe test of his leadership.

Origin of severe

Middle French or Latin; Middle French, from Latin severus

First Known Use: 1548

Synonym Discussion of severe

severe, stern, austere, ascetic mean given to or marked by strict discipline and firm restraint. severe implies standards enforced without indulgence or laxity and may suggest harshness <severe military discipline>. stern stresses inflexibility and inexorability of temper or character <stern arbiters of public morality>. austere stresses absence of warmth, color, or feeling and may apply to rigorous restraint, simplicity, or self-denial <living an austere life in the country>. ascetic implies abstention from pleasure and comfort or self-indulgence as spiritual discipline <the ascetic life of the monks>.

Seen and Heard

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February 7, 2016

a slight offense

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