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 WebOf these, 25 are listed as serious cases—resulting in adverse events like miscarriage, loss of consciousness, acute kidney injury and pancreatitis—and two resulted in death.—Ty Roush, Forbes, 30 Nov. 2023 But as the Israeli military response has intensified in the weeks since, and the humanitarian crisis in Gaza has become more acute, the corporate world’s response has been more muted.—Peter Vanham, Fortune, 29 Nov. 2023 There, blood work was done and he was diagnosed with a blood cancer known as T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (T-ALL).—Jordan Greene, Peoplemag, 29 Nov. 2023 But 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 association.—Mark Kreidler, Fortune Well, 28 Nov. 2023 The United Nations is suffering from acute moral failure and can’t fulfill its core mission.—Eli Cohen, WSJ, 26 Nov. 2023 While the danger of DEI is especially acute in medical schools, the ideology damages educational standards and jeopardizes free speech everywhere.—Stanley Goldfarb, National Review, 21 Nov. 2023 His video composition is an acute metaphor of the disorienting shift from an analog world into a digital one, a deluge underway now for several tumultuous decades.—Christopher Knight, Los Angeles Times, 15 Nov. 2023 But 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 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