awful

1 of 2

adjective

aw·​ful ˈȯ-fəl How to pronounce awful (audio)
1
: extremely disagreeable or objectionable
awful food
awful behavior
an awful experience
2
informal : exceedingly great
used as an intensive
an 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
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 noun
Using Awful as an Adjective and Adverb: Usage Guide

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

awful

2 of 2

adverb

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

Example Sentences

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. See More
Recent Examples on the Web
Adjective
Have any of you had experiences with a man as awful as J.P.? Bob Strauss, Los Angeles Times, 23 Nov. 2022 While choking is an awful sensation, most of the time the food is impacted in the esophagus and not in your breathing tube, the trachea. Dr. Michael Daignault, USA TODAY, 22 Nov. 2022 The night ends with the promise of escape from the awful dream of the White Lotus, as Quentin invites Tanya and Portia to come to his Palermo villa on his yacht. Donna Bowman, Chron, 20 Nov. 2022 By the end of the night, the Cavs -- with the league’s worst defensive rating over the last five games -- had another awful showing, letting the Bucks shoot 41 of 68 (47.7%) from the field and 16 of 39 (41%) from 3-point range. Chris Fedor, cleveland, 17 Nov. 2022 This is a book about the awful grind of building a startup. Philip Delves Broughton, WSJ, 17 Nov. 2022 Cincinnati’s offense was flat-out awful against the Steelers in the Bengals’ season-opening loss at Paycor Stadium. Jason Williams, The Enquirer, 17 Nov. 2022 Plenty of other experts simply burned out or were threatened off the site by awful, enraged people. Charlie Warzel, The Atlantic, 17 Nov. 2022 Understandably, the thing fans and critics alike are buzzing about today is how awful the games look and perform, especially on older Nintendo Switches. Jhaan Elker, Washington Post, 17 Nov. 2022
Adverb
Someone who has worked awful hard, has a great skill set, four years of college, four years of lifting, four years of game-planning at a high level in Division III. Dom Amore, Hartford Courant, 26 May 2022 First, there is the question whether the awful-looking restraint maneuver Chauvin used was actually authorized at the time, or at least not clearly forbidden. D.j. Tice, Star Tribune, 20 Feb. 2021 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, 2 Oct. 2020 See More

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.

Word History

Etymology

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

First Known Use

Adjective

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 3

Adverb

1816, in the meaning defined above

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

Dictionary Entries Near awful

Cite this Entry

“Awful.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/awful. Accessed 27 Nov. 2022.

Kids Definition

awful 1 of 2

adjective

aw·​ful ˈȯ-fəl How to pronounce awful (audio)
1
2
: extremely disagreeable or unpleasant
3
: very great
took an awful chance
awfulness noun

awful

2 of 2

adverb

: very entry 2 sense 1
awful tired

More from Merriam-Webster on awful

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