acuter; acutest
1
a(1)
: characterized by sharpness or severity of sudden onset
acute pain
(2)
: of rapid onset and relatively short duration
acute illness
see also acute disease
(3)
: being, providing, or requiring short-term medical care (as for acute disease or traumatic injury)
acute hospitals
an acute patient
b
: lasting a short time
acute experiments
2
: ending in a sharp point: such as
a
: being or forming an angle measuring less than 90 degrees
an acute angle
b
: composed of acute angles
an acute triangle
3
a
of an accent mark : having the form ´
b
: marked with an acute accent
c
: of the variety indicated by an acute accent
4
a
: marked by keen discernment or intellectual perception especially of subtle distinctions
an acute thinker
b
: responsive to slight impressions or stimuli
acute hearing
5
: felt, perceived, or experienced intensely
acute distress
6
: demanding urgent attention
an acute emergency
acutely adverb
acuteness noun

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Ways to Be Acute

For such a short and simple-looking word, acute has a rather bewildering range of meanings. It first entered the English language with a medical sense, referring to the sharpness or severity of a symptom. It retains this meaning today, but can also refer to the severity of more general matters, such as "acute embarrassment" or "an acute shortage."

Acute is also frequently used to describe less troublesome matters, such as keenness of perception ("an acute observer" or "an acute sense of smell"), a type of angle (one measuring less than 90 degrees), or the demand for urgent attention ("acute danger").

Choose the Right Synonym for acute

acute, critical, crucial mean of uncertain outcome.

acute stresses intensification of conditions leading to a culmination or breaking point.

an acute housing shortage

critical adds to acute implications of imminent change, of attendant suspense, and of decisiveness in the outcome.

the war has entered a critical phase

crucial suggests a dividing of the ways and often a test or trial involving the determination of a future course or direction.

a crucial vote

synonyms see in addition sharp

Examples of acute in a Sentence

an acute sense of humor It's a politically acute film that does not oversimplify the issues.
Recent Examples on the Web Hubris is said to come before the fall, and the swagger with which Mark Zuckerberg dunked on Apple’s $3,500 Vision Pro this week is giving critics an acute case of déjà vu. Christiaan Hetzner, Fortune, 15 Feb. 2024 Climate change is also causing colder winters which places acute strains on our Texas energy grid. Eleanor Dearman, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, 15 Feb. 2024 Front-line Ukrainian infantry units report acute shortage of soldiers Located just 15 miles outside the occupied regional capital of Donetsk, Avdiivka has more strategic value for Russia than Bakhmut. Isabelle Khurshudyan, Washington Post, 15 Feb. 2024 There was an elevated trend for oral cancers, thyroid cancer, acute myelogenous leukemia, disorders of the blood, B-cell lymphomas and a certain kind of bladder cancer called nonpapillary transitional cell bladder carcinoma. Brenda Goodman, CNN, 31 Jan. 2024 The downsides of remote work have been more acute for younger workers, many of whom have struggled to build networks and mentor relationships in the Zoom era. Danielle Abril, Washington Post, 2 Feb. 2024 That was a key priority of lawmakers from states with acute housing shortages and soaring prices. Kevin Freking, Fortune, 1 Feb. 2024 Matthew Perry died from acute effects of ketamine, other contributing factors: Autopsy Generic ketamine, by contrast, has no REMS requirements. Dawn Megli | Kff Health News, ABC News, 31 Jan. 2024 The General Hospital alum's cause of death was listed as positional asphyxia due to acute alcohol intoxication, according to a report from the Medical Examiner's Office obtained by TMZ. Liza Esquibias, Peoplemag, 27 Jan. 2024 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'acute.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History

Etymology

Middle English, borrowed from Latin acūtus "sharpened, pointed, having a violent onset, discerning, less than 90 degrees (of an angle)," from past participle of acuere "to sharpen, rouse, stimulate," probably derived from an otherwise unattested adjective stem acū- "sharp"; akin to acū-, acus "needle," a perhaps independently derived noun; further akin to Old Church Slavic osŭtŭ "thistle," Lithuanian ãšutas "hair of a horse's tail or mane"; all going back to the Indo-European base *h2eḱ- "sharp" — more at edge entry 1

First Known Use

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a(1)

Time Traveler
The first known use of acute was in the 14th century

Dictionary Entries Near acute

Cite this Entry

“Acute.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/acute. Accessed 26 Feb. 2024.

Kids Definition

acute

adjective
acuter; acutest
1
a
: severe sense 3, sharp
acute pain
b
: having a sudden onset and short duration
acute disease
2
: being or forming an angle measuring less than 90 degrees
an acute angle
3
a
: marked by keen awareness : shrewd
an acute observation
b
: having sharp perceptions : observant
4
: needing speedy attention : urgent
an acute shortage of blood plasma
5
: felt or experienced intensely
acute distress
acutely adverb
acuteness noun

Medical Definition

acute

adjective
1
: sensing or perceiving accurately, clearly, effectively, or sensitively
acute vision
2
a
: characterized by sharpness or severity of sudden onset
acute pain brought on by injury
an acute infection
b(1)
: of rapid onset and relatively short duration
acute illness
an acute inflammation
see also acute disease compare chronic entry 1 sense 2a
(2)
: being, providing, or requiring short-term medical care (as for an acute disease or traumatic injury) : acute care
an acute hospital
acute patients
c
: lasting a short time
Most studies of the efficacy and safety of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors for the treatment of children and adolescents with major depression or anxiety disorders are acute studies, generally ranging in length from eight to 12 weeks.Karen Dineen Wagner, Psychiatric Times
acutely adverb
Since the patient's ocular symptoms had acutely worsened, he underwent immediate surgery … Jae Yong Lee, The New England Journal of Medicine
acuteness noun
A triage nurse determines the acuteness of the patient's problem and coordinates the order for treatment, providing immediate care to critically ill or injured patients and efficient care to those less seriously ill. Ridgecrest Regional Hospital

More from Merriam-Webster on acute

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