awful

adjective
aw·​ful | \ ˈȯ-fəl How to pronounce awful (audio) \

Definition of awful

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 : extremely disagreeable or objectionable awful food awful behavior an awful experience
2 informal : exceedingly great used as an intensivean awful lot of money
3 : inspiring awe … the presence of Nature in all her awful loveliness.— George Eliot
4 : filled with awe: such as
a : deeply respectful or reverential
b obsolete : afraid, terrified

awful

adverb

Definition of awful (Entry 2 of 2)

chiefly US, informal
: very, extremely awful tired an awful long time

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Other Words from awful

Adjective

awfully \ ˈȯ-​fə-​lē How to pronounce awful (audio) , especially as an adverb of adjective senses 3 and 4  -​flē \ adverb
an awfully [=extremely] long time behaving awfully
awfulness \ ˈȯ-​fəl-​nəs How to pronounce awful (audio) \ noun

Using Awful as an Adjective and Adverb: Usage Guide

Adjective

Some grammarians take issue with the senses of awful and awfully that do not convey the etymological connection with awe. However, senses 1 and 2 of the adjective were being used in speech and casual writing by the late 18th century. It is an awful while since you have heard from me … — John Keats (letter) There was an awful crowd … — Sir Walter Scott (letter) This is an awful thing to say to Oil Painters … — William Blake Adverbial use of awful as an intensifier began to appear in print in the early 19th century, as did the senses of awfully corresponding to senses 1 and 2 of the adjective. Awfully continues to enjoy widespread use in newspapers and the like. It is worth remembering that the vote in the Senate about the Gulf War was an awfully close 53 to 47 … — James P. Rubin "Let the good times roll" can be an awfully alluring philosophy … — Rod Dreher The adverb awful, on the other hand, is largely restricted to informal prose and to the spoken language it emulates and is chiefly an American use. I tell them that seven years is an awful long time. — Kenneth Feinberg Awful quiet out there, I thought. Disquietingly quiet. — Mike Sutter "There are some awful good golfers playing in the tournament this week," observed Cook. — George Geise

Examples of awful in a Sentence

Adjective They heard the most awful sounds. Awful things began to happen. He has some awful disease. That joke is just awful. That's an awful thing to say. Who painted the house that awful color? The mountains have an awful majesty. Adverb We haven't heard from him in an awful long time. You've come an awful long way.
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Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective Its common words and phrases do an awful lot of double duty, helping to convey lofty ideas before returning to the mundane work of enabling people to exchange information about the grain harvest or the price of eggs. Nicholas Frankovich, National Review, "Tradition without Traditionalism: Reginald Foster Requiescat in Pace," 2 Jan. 2021 This year, when so much has been aggravating or worse, his show has given a chance to escape for a few hours each day and enjoy sports with people who sound an awful lot like your friends. Globe Staff, BostonGlobe.com, "Dan Patrick’s radio show in tune with the times," 1 Jan. 2021 Although many of us long ago concluded the answer to that one: an awful lot. Katherine Dunn, Fortune, "You’re not crazy—you really hunger for social contact, scientists say," 24 Nov. 2020 A couple of weeks after returning to work, as she was being fitted for a new N95 mask, a co-worker said her breathing sounded awful. al, "What is long COVID? UAB’s Dr. Michael Saag says some patients suffer for months," 31 Dec. 2020 This appears to be one of those awful cases where putting something off has profound, irreversible consequences. Liz Weston, oregonlive, "Liz Weston: Missed deadline for self-employed tax filings may cost survivor tens of thousands of dollars," 2 Jan. 2021 In one short, awful period in late November 1978, San Francisco and the nation anguished as the mass suicide of People’s Temple members in Guyana was followed days later by the assasinations of Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk. San Francisco Chronicle, "The best of Chronicle storytelling," 1 Jan. 2021 Driving to stadiums with empty or mostly empty parking lots and standing in some fan-less stadiums was a constant reminder of how awful this pandemic has been. cleveland, "Top 20 Cleveland Browns pictures from 2020 by cleveland.com photographers," 31 Dec. 2020 A couple of weeks after returning to work, as she was being fitted for a new N95 mask, a co-worker said her breathing sounded awful. al, "What is long COVID? UAB’s Dr. Michael Saag says some patients suffer for months," 31 Dec. 2020 Recent Examples on the Web: Adverb The following day, Gonzalez was back at the testing site, helping patients — many of whom had fevers and awful-sounding coughs — fill out their paperwork. Karen Ann Cullotta, chicagotribune.com, "Loss, heroism and hope: Catching up with Chicagoans whose lives were forever changed by COVID-19," 2 Oct. 2020

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'awful.' 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 awful

Adjective

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 3

Adverb

1816, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for awful

Adjective

Middle English aghful, awful "frightful, terrifying, commanding great respect, worthy of reverence," from aw, awe "terror, dread, extreme reverence" + -ful -ful entry 1 — more at awe entry 1

Adverb

derivative of awful entry 1

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Time Traveler for awful

Time Traveler

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

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Statistics for awful

Last Updated

18 Jan 2021

Cite this Entry

“Awful.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/awful. Accessed 28 Jan. 2021.

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More Definitions for awful

awful

adjective
How to pronounce awful (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of awful

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: extremely bad or unpleasant
formal + old-fashioned : causing feelings of fear and wonder

awful

adverb

English Language Learners Definition of awful (Entry 2 of 2)

chiefly US, informal : very or extremely

awful

adjective
aw·​ful | \ ˈȯ-fəl How to pronounce awful (audio) \

Kids Definition of awful

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 : extremely bad or unpleasant an awful cold Rodrick's band is REALLY awful, and I can't stand being home when they're having rehearsals.— Jeff Kinney, Wimpy Kid
2 : very much We have an awful lot to do.
3 : causing fear or terror an awful roar

awful

adverb

Kids Definition of awful (Entry 2 of 2)

: awfully That's an awful dangerous stunt.

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Comments on awful

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