di·​sas·​ter | \di-ˈzas-tər, -ˈsas- \

Definition of disaster 

1 obsolete, occult : an unfavorable aspect (see aspect sense 2a) of a planet or star

2 : a sudden calamitous event bringing great damage, loss, or destruction natural disasters broadly : a sudden or great misfortune or failure The party was a disaster.

Keep scrolling for more

Did You Know?

Disaster has its roots in the belief that the positions of stars influence the fate of humans, often in destructive ways; its original meaning in English was "an unfavorable aspect of a planet or star." The word comes to us through Middle French and the Old Italian word disastro, from the Latin prefix dis- and Latin astro, meaning "star." Another unfortunate word that comes to us from astrological beliefs is "ill-starred." Now generally used in the sense of "unlucky" or "having or destined to a hapless fate," "ill-starred" was originally used literally to describe someone born under or guided by an evil star. We also have star-crossed, meaning "not favored by the stars" or "ill-fated."

Examples of disaster in a Sentence

The program examined several bridge failures and other engineering disasters. The new regulations could be a disaster for smaller businesses. They're trying to find a way to avoid disaster. The dinner party was a complete disaster.
See More

Recent Examples on the Web

Even though spending money up front to brace for natural disasters saves money in the long run, communities notoriously underfund proactive steps, according to Zurich. Benjamin Hulac, Scientific American, "Society Needs to Flip Its Disaster Spending, Insurance Report Says," 11 June 2018 June is National Pet Preparedness Month, so don’t wait for a rainy day to get your pet ready for a natural disaster. Kelli Bender, PEOPLE.com, "Sean Lowe Is Here to Help You Prepare Your Pet for the 2018 Hurricane Season," 8 June 2018 The authors called for patients, communities and doctors to develop contingency plans for natural disasters. The Washington Post, NOLA.com, "Harvard study estimates thousands died in Puerto Rico due to Hurricane Maria," 29 May 2018 Every time there are these big disasters, people act more altruistically. Geek's Guide To The Galaxy, WIRED, "Satanists Just Aren’t Scary Anymore," 14 July 2018 Amid competing major disasters, the overstretched agency struggled to provide relief to storm victims, but drew particular criticism for its response in Puerto Rico. Laignee Barron, Time, "FEMA Says It Was Significantly Unprepared When Hurricane Maria Hit Puerto Rico," 13 July 2018 The production was a disaster, with a malfunctioning dry-ice machine, overheated costumes and an unfinished score that Mr. Knussen continued tweaking for another four years. Harrison Smith, Washington Post, "Oliver Knussen, influential composer of ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ opera, dies at 66," 12 July 2018 Unlike a year ago, when the Bay Bridge Series was held in late July and both teams were wallowing in despair on their way to utter disaster, the A’s and the Giants are interestingly competitive this season. Ann Killion, SFChronicle.com, "Giants, A’s enter Bay Bridge Series on the rise," 12 July 2018 Santa Barbara has a long history of natural disaster, particularly brush fires. Howard Blume, latimes.com, "Another night of terror and calamity for Santa Barbara County as new destructive fire sweeps through," 8 July 2018

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

1567, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for disaster

Middle French & Old Italian; Middle French desastre, from Old Italian disastro, from dis- (from Latin) + astro star, from Latin astrum — more at astral

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about disaster

Listen to Our Podcast about disaster

Statistics for disaster

Last Updated

4 Nov 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for disaster

The first known use of disaster was in 1567

See more words from the same year

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for disaster



English Language Learners Definition of disaster

: something (such as a flood, tornado, fire, plane crash, etc.) that happens suddenly and causes much suffering or loss to many people

: something that has a very bad effect or result

: a complete or terrible failure


di·​sas·​ter | \diz-ˈas-tər, dis-\

Kids Definition of disaster

: something (as a flood or a tornado) that happens suddenly and causes much suffering or loss

Keep scrolling for more

Comments on disaster

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


playful or foolish behavior

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Autumn Words of the Day 2018

  • a-top-down-image-of-road-through-an-autumn-forest
  • Which is a synonym of fugacious?
How Strong Is Your Vocabulary?

Test your vocabulary with our 10-question quiz!


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!