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").
an acute sense of humor
It's a politically acute film that does not oversimplify the issues.
Recent Examples on the WebBut the crunch is particularly acute in rural areas and places with a high cost of living, like California, which has a lower ratio of therapists to residents: just 57 per 100,000, compared with the national ratio of 72 per 100,000, according to the APTA.—Mark Kreidler | Kaiser Health News, ABC News, 18 Nov. 2023 In Target’s case, theft has been a particularly acute headwind.—Bypaolo Confino, Fortune, 16 Nov. 2023 The dry weather has been particularly acute over the last month.—Ian Livingston, Washington Post, 16 Nov. 2023 Health care shortages tend to be more acute in rural areas.—Michelle Andrews, CBS News, 15 Nov. 2023 Risks are particularly acute in humanitarian settings.—Forbes, 13 Nov. 2023 The risk is particularly acute among members of smaller departments, researchers say, which tend to have fewer resources available for officers struggling with suicidal thoughts.—Libor Jany, Los Angeles Times, 8 Nov. 2023 There’s a phase of acute radiation exposure sometimes called the walking ghost phase.—Asher Elbein, Scientific American, 3 Nov. 2023 Canal has grown up with an acute awareness of the different ways one can be stared at.—Hugh Morris, The New Yorker, 2 Nov. 2023 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.
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
: being, providing, or requiring short-term medical care (as for an acute disease or traumatic injury) : acute care
an acute hospital
: 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
Since the patient's ocular symptoms had acutely worsened, he underwent immediate surgery … —Jae Yong Lee, The New England Journal of Medicine
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