cri·​sis | \ ˈkrī-səs \
plural crises\ ˈkrī-​ˌsēz \

Definition of crisis

1a : the turning point for better or worse in an acute disease or fever
b : a paroxysmal attack of pain, distress, or disordered function
c : an emotionally significant event or radical change of status in a person's life a midlife crisis
2 : the decisive moment (as in a literary plot) The crisis of the play occurs in Act 3.
3a : an unstable or crucial time or state of affairs in which a decisive change is impending especially : one with the distinct possibility of a highly undesirable outcome a financial crisis the nation's energy crisis
b : a situation that has reached a critical phase the environmental crisis the unemployment crisis

Keep scrolling for more

Choose the Right Synonym for crisis

juncture, exigency, emergency, contingency, pinch, strait (or straits) crisis mean a critical or crucial time or state of affairs. juncture stresses the significant concurrence or convergence of events. an important juncture in our country's history exigency stresses the pressure of restrictions or urgency of demands created by a special situation. provide for exigencies emergency applies to a sudden unforeseen situation requiring prompt action to avoid disaster. the presence of mind needed to deal with emergencies contingency implies an emergency or exigency that is regarded as possible but uncertain of occurrence. contingency plans pinch implies urgency or pressure for action to a less intense degree than exigency or emergency. come through in a pinch strait, now commonly straits, applies to a troublesome situation from which escape is extremely difficult. in dire straits crisis applies to a juncture whose outcome will make a decisive difference. a crisis of confidence

Semantic Crisis Intervention

Some people are bothered by changes in a word’s meaning (see: literally), while others have a more relaxed attitude towards semantic drift. For those who feel vexed when a word seems to have suddenly changed its spots, it may be of some comfort to know that words in English do this all the time; crisis is a fine example. Originally, crisis denoted “the turning point for better or worse in an acute disease or fever.” Now it most commonly means “a difficult or dangerous situation that needs serious attention,” yet few people insist that it should be used exclusively in its older meaning. The normality of semantic change can be seen in another word that first appeared in febrile contexts: hectic, which now is primarily used to mean “very busy,” originally referred to a fever that was fluctuating but recurrent.

Examples of crisis in a Sentence

She was dealing with a family crisis at the time. Most people blame the government for the country's worsening economic crisis. last year's state budget crisis In times of national crisis, we need strong leaders we can trust. A year ago, both companies were in crisis.
See More

Recent Examples on the Web

And Friday night, The New York Times dropped what may be the biggest bombshell in two years of mounting crises—has the FBI suspected that the president has been doing Russia’s bidding all along? Lynn Yaeger, Vogue, "The Week in Washington: “They Can Name It Peaches”," 13 Jan. 2019 Launching satellites from a large airplane has big advantages, especially for U.S. government customers who may need to replace a sat or augment their orbital technology during a crisis. Joe Pappalardo, Popular Mechanics, "The Virgin Galactic Hype Totally Misses the Point," 13 Dec. 2018 Researchers also linked the water crisis to a flood of Legionnaires’ disease cases. Beth Mole, Ars Technica, "Doc charged with involuntary manslaughter in Flint crisis wins top health award," 12 Oct. 2018 Takes John Authers has a long, reflective post about how social media contributed to an erosion of trust in journalism, and how dangerous that will prove to be during the next financial crisis. Casey Newton, The Verge, "Facebook’s head of public policy is supporting the Kavanaugh nomination, and some employees are livid," 5 Oct. 2018 Fink's book documents the decisions made by the doctors during the crisis, as the hospital was left without power or an evacuation plan. Leah Silverman, Town & Country, "Everything We Know So Far About American Crime Story Season 3," 17 Sep. 2018 Some children separated from parents during the family separation crisis have still not been reunited with their parents, according to USA Today. Jewel Wicker, Teen Vogue, "The Trump Administration Took $10 Million From FEMA and Gave It to ICE," 13 Sep. 2018 Aspiring filmmaker Mark starts to document his close group of friends in New York City in the early 90s during the AIDS crisis. Tamara Fuentes, Seventeen, "15 Sad Movies to Watch on Netflix for When You Need a Good Cry," 28 Aug. 2018 Many instantly took issue with the First Lady's choice of fashion, calling it tone-deaf and insensitive in the context of her visit to a children's shelter during the family separation crisis. Julyssa Lopez, Glamour, "Here's the Latest Explanation for Melania Trump's Infamous 'I Really Don't Care, Do U?' Jacket," 18 Aug. 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'crisis.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

See More

First Known Use of crisis

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

History and Etymology for crisis

Middle English crise, crisis, borrowed from Latin crisis "judgment, critical stage," borrowed from Greek krísis "act of separating, decision, judgment, event, outcome, turning point, sudden change," from kri-, variant stem of krī́nein "to separate, choose, decide, judge" + -sis, suffix forming nouns of action or process — more at certain entry 1

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about crisis

Statistics for crisis

Last Updated

19 Jan 2019

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for crisis

The first known use of crisis was in the 15th century

See more words from the same century

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for crisis



English Language Learners Definition of crisis

: a difficult or dangerous situation that needs serious attention


cri·​sis | \ ˈkrī-səs \
plural crises\ ˈkrī-​ˌsēz \

Kids Definition of crisis

: a difficult or dangerous situation that needs serious attention a medical crisis


cri·​sis | \ ˈkrī-səs \
plural crises\ -​ˌsēz \

Medical Definition of crisis

1 : the turning point for better or worse in an acute disease or fever especially : a sudden turn for the better (as sudden abatement in severity of symptoms or abrupt drop in temperature) — compare lysis sense 1
2 : a paroxysmal attack of pain, distress, or disordered function tabetic crisis cardiac crisis
3 : an emotionally significant event or radical change of status in a person's life
4 : a psychological or social condition characterized by unusual instability caused by excessive stress and either endangering or felt to endanger the continuity of an individual or group especially : such a social condition requiring the transformation of cultural patterns and values

Keep scrolling for more

More from Merriam-Webster on crisis

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with crisis

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for crisis

Spanish Central: Translation of crisis

Nglish: Translation of crisis for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of crisis for Arabic Speakers Encyclopedia article about crisis

Comments on crisis

What made you want to look up crisis? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


a complex dispute or argument

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Homophone Quiz

  • three-bears-two-of-them-look-like-theyre-whispering-to-a-third-bear-who-looks-chuffed-to-be-the-center-of-attention
  • In order to judge how people felt, the senator's office hired a firm to take a ______.
Name That Thing

Test your visual vocabulary with our 10-question challenge!

Word Winder's CrossWinder

Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.


Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!