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 awfully (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 awfulness (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 Art may imitate life, but life right now is pretty awful. Kelly Lawler, USA TODAY, "Are we ready for TV shows about COVID like HBO's 'Coastal Elites'? Absolutely not.," 11 Sep. 2020 The mood music was awful for the last few weeks and the market largely ignored it—that’s shifted. Anna Isaac, WSJ, "European Stocks Climb as Investors Weigh Tech Resilience," 7 Sep. 2020 And pictures of baby Jake on the wall intermittently look a whole awful lot like baby Lucy. Nathan Mattise, Ars Technica, "I’m Thinking of Ending Things," 7 Sep. 2020 Electricity blackouts are awful at any time, but especially during an extreme heat wave and for reasons that are man-made. Daniel Tenreiro, National Review, "The Capital Note: The Taxman Cometh," 17 Aug. 2020 Yeah, Newton missed 14 of 16 games with a foot injury in 2019, but the way new owner David Tepper and new head coach Matt Rhule handled Newton’s departure was awful. oregonlive, "Fantasy Football 2020: Justin Herbert among 10 breakout candidates at quarterback," 28 Aug. 2020 After 27 games – 45 percent of the season, 72 games in a real-life season – the Reds are in 14th place in the National League, ahead of only the Pirates, who are awful. Paul Daugherty, The Enquirer, "Doc's Morning Line: Maybe the Cincinnati Reds need some voodoo to get the offense going," 26 Aug. 2020 The only problem is that now — this very moment right now — is still awful. Rex Huppke, chicagotribune.com, "Column: At Republican National Convention, coronavirus news is rosy. Sick students and the dead might disagree.," 26 Aug. 2020 But people can learn an awful lot about Russia and the Trump campaign just by reading the thousand pages that the Senate Intelligence Committee put out this week. CBS News, "Transcript: Former FBI Director James Comey on "Face the Nation," August 23, 2020," 23 Aug. 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

14 Sep 2020

Cite this Entry

“Awful.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/awful. Accessed 20 Sep. 2020.

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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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