\ə-ˈkyüt \
acuter; acutest

Definition of acute 

1a(1) : characterized by sharpness or severity of sudden onset acute pain

(2) : having a sudden onset, sharp rise, and short course acute illness

(3) : being, providing, or requiring short-term medical care (as for serious illness 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

3a of an accent mark : having the form ´

b : marked with an acute accent

c : of the variety indicated by an acute accent

4a : 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

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Other Words from acute

acutely adverb
acuteness noun

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

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").

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

The need for such approaches is especially acute today, as fentanyls, a class of synthetic opioids, slowly overtake heroin in the illicit market. German Lopez, Vox, "A big, new review of the evidence finds that prescription heroin works," 6 Dec. 2018 The problem is especially acute in King County and counties to the north, where the overall number of nights in hotels was more than 1,000 between September 2017 and August 2018. Scott Greenstone, The Seattle Times, "With shortage of foster parents, Washington has almost tenfold increase in hotel stays for foster kids," 27 Nov. 2018 This is particularly acute among young people of color in areas lacking government and social investment. Rachel Anspach, Teen Vogue, "Trump's Policies Are Increasing Teen Stress and Eroding Mental Health," 12 Nov. 2018 Potential symptoms range from headaches and fever to, in severe cases, acute respiratory failure or even death. New York Times, "Freed From Thai Cave, Boys May Still Face Health Problems," 10 July 2018 Save the Children based its figures on mortality rates for untreated cases of severe acute malnutrition, or SAM, in young children. Samy Magdy, The Seattle Times, "Aid group: 85,000 children may have died of hunger in Yemen," 21 Nov. 2018 At least half of all children under five years of age — about 770,000 of them — in that region are suffering from acute malnutrition, including 400,000 young people who are severely malnourished and at risk of death. Nick Turse, Teen Vogue, "The Democratic Republic of Congo Has Humanitarian Crises Leaving Millions of Children In Danger," 14 Nov. 2018 This may be particularly acute for women at the start of their careers, when their track records are shortest—and for women of color, who are up against both gender and racial bias. Sheryl Sandberg, WSJ, "Sheryl Sandberg: Progress for Women Isn’t Just Slow—It’s Stalled," 23 Oct. 2018 This concern is particularly acute with virtual machines: if two virtual machines share a physical core, then the virtual machine using one logical core can potentially spy on the virtual machine using the other logical core. Peter Bright, Ars Technica, "Intel’s SGX blown wide open by, you guessed it, a speculative execution attack," 14 Aug. 2018

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

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First Known Use of acute

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

History and Etymology for acute

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

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Last Updated

9 Dec 2018

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Time Traveler for acute

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

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English Language Learners Definition of acute

: very serious or dangerous : requiring serious attention or action

: having or showing an ability to think clearly and to understand what is not obvious or simple about something

: very strong and sensitive : highly developed


\ə-ˈkyüt \
acuter; acutest

Kids Definition of acute

1 : measuring less than 90 degrees acute angles

2 : marked by or showing an ability to understand things that are not obvious an acute observation

3 : severe, sharp acute pain

4 : developing quickly and lasting only a short time acute illness

5 : critical sense 4, urgent an acute shortage of food

6 : very strong and sensitive an acute sense of smell

Other Words from acute

acutely adverb
acuteness noun


\ə-ˈkyüt \

Medical Definition of acute 

1 : sensing or perceiving accurately, clearly, effectively, or sensitively acute vision

2a : characterized by sharpness or severity of sudden onset acute pain brought on by injury an acute infection

b(1) : having a sudden onset, sharp rise, and short course acute illness an acute inflammation — compare chronic sense 2a

(2) : acute care an acute hospital

c : lasting a short time acute experiments

Other Words from acute

acutely adverb
acuteness noun

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More from Merriam-Webster on acute

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with acute

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for acute

Spanish Central: Translation of acute

Nglish: Translation of acute for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of acute for Arabic Speakers

Comments on acute

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


living or existing for a long time

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