abys·​sal | \ ə-ˈbi-səl How to pronounce abyssal (audio) \

Definition of abyssal

2 : of or relating to the bottom waters of the ocean depths

Did you know?

Abyssal is a relatively rare word, though it's derived from the more prevalent noun, abyss. In contrast, the adjective abysmal is more common than its corresponding noun abysm. All four terms descend from the Late Latin word abyssus, which is in turn derived from the Greek abyssos ("bottomless"). Abyss and abysm are synonymous (both can refer to the mythical bottomless pit in old accounts of the universe or can be used more broadly in reference to any immeasurably deep gulf), but the adjectives abyssal and abysmal are not used identically. Abyssal can mean "incomprehensible" (as in "showed abyssal ignorance") but it's most often found in contexts referring to the bottom of the sea. Abysmal shares the oceanographic sense with abyssal, but it more frequently means "immeasurably great" or "absolutely wretched."

Examples of abyssal in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web Beijing announced new tariffs against the US on Friday, deepening the already abyssal trade war between the two countries. Aj Willingham, CNN, 26 Aug. 2019 As an open-source project, C:DDA has its inner workings posted freely online, where anyone with a working knowledge of C++ can dive in and add weapons, recipes, and more information into the simulation's already abyssal depths. Eric Limer, Popular Mechanics, 17 Dec. 2018 Even here, though, abyssal tuba notes exposed a sonic substratum. Alex Ross, The New Yorker, 21 Apr. 2017 Before New Horizons flew by, scientists thought there wouldn’t be much in the way of geological activity happening out there on the fringe, where temperatures are decidedly abyssal and materials tend to freeze in place. National Geographic, 14 July 2016

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'abyssal.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

First Known Use of abyssal

1609, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for abyssal

borrowed from Medieval Latin abyssālis, from Late Latin abyssus abyss + Latin -ālis -al entry 1

Learn More About abyssal

Time Traveler for abyssal

Time Traveler

The first known use of abyssal was in 1609

See more words from the same year

Listen to Our Podcast About abyssal

Dictionary Entries Near abyssal




See More Nearby Entries 

Statistics for abyssal

Cite this Entry

“Abyssal.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/abyssal. Accessed 27 Jun. 2022.

Style: MLA
MLACheck Mark Icon ChicagoCheck Mark Icon APACheck Mark Icon Merriam-WebsterCheck Mark Icon

More from Merriam-Webster on abyssal

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for abyssal

Nglish: Translation of abyssal for Spanish Speakers


Test Your Vocabulary

Name That Food

  • a-light
  • Name these cookies!
How Strong Is Your Vocabulary?

Test your vocabulary with our 10-question quiz!

Universal Daily Crossword

A daily challenge for crossword fanatics.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!