dis·​mal | \ˈdiz-məl \

Definition of dismal 

1 obsolete : disastrous, dreadful

2 : showing or causing gloom (see gloom entry 2 sense 2) or depression the dismal prison twilight— Charles Dickens

3 : lacking merit : particularly bad a dismal performance

Keep scrolling for more

Other Words from dismal

dismally \ -​mə-​lē \ adverb
dismalness noun

Choose the Right Synonym for dismal

dismal, dreary, bleak, gloomy, cheerless, desolate mean devoid of cheer or comfort. dismal indicates extreme and utterly depressing gloominess. dismal weather dreary, often interchangeable with dismal, emphasizes discouragement resulting from sustained dullness or futility. a dreary job bleak suggests chill, dull, and barren characteristics that utterly dishearten. the bleak years of the depression gloomy often suggests lack of hope or promise. gloomy war news cheerless stresses absence of anything cheering. a drab and cheerless office desolate adds an element of utter remoteness or lack of human contact to any already disheartening aspect. a desolate outpost

The Evil History of Dismal

In late antiquity, certain days each month, called “Egyptian days,” were regarded as inauspicious, probably as a relic of ancient Egyptian belief. By the Middle Ages, people took them to be anniversaries of the Biblical plagues in Egypt. There were 24 such days per year, and in Anglo-French they were called collectively dismal (from Latin dies mali, “evil days”), and this word was borrowed into Middle English. In time the “evil days” sense was forgotten and dismal was simply taken to mean “disastrous.” The noun dismal, meaning “swamp,” goes back to the 1700s when the marshy region in Virginia and North Carolina was named the Great Dismal Swamp.

Examples of dismal in a Sentence

The show was a dismal failure. The team's record is dismal.

Recent Examples on the Web

But simply waiting for that progress to trickle down into the labour market ignores India’s dismal recent record. The Economist, "Why India needs women to work," 5 July 2018 The doom and gloom crowd had predicted dismal first quarter numbers from Tesla. Aarian Marshall, WIRED, "This Week in the Future of Cars: All About Elon," 4 May 2018 Disgruntlement with the Presidency of Barack Obama, and the dismal economy of the late aughts, helped revive anti-government fervor, and, along with it, Mack’s influence. Naomi Fry, The New Yorker, "The Renegade Sheriffs," 23 Apr. 2018 Anger against Maduro and his United Socialist Party has also been stoked by a dismal economy, food and medicine shortages and skyrocketing inflation. Newsweek, "October 13 Issue," 13 Oct. 2017 The enthusiastic crowd had been primed by a campaign video that was largely devoted to painting a picture of how dismal a place Maryland was before Hogan defeated then-Lt. Michael Dresser, baltimoresun.com, "Hogan launches his fall re-election campaign on friendly turf of Hagerstown," 2 June 2018 The trouble is, Mr Bannon’s record in and since leaving government has been so dismal and self-defeating as to discredit his views and even his values. The Economist, "Banished Bannon," 11 Jan. 2018 Just when the state of airplane comforts was looking pretty dismal, comes a major victory for frequent-fliers and germaphobes alike. Kari Costas, ELLE Decor, "Germaphobes, Rejoice. Airplanes May Soon Have Self-Cleaning Bathrooms," 4 Mar. 2016 Whitbeck has presided over a particularly dismal stretch for Virginia Republicans, who lost all three statewide offices last year and saw their overwhelming majority in the House of Delegates dwindle to the narrowest possible margin. Jenna Portnoy And Laura Vozzella, Washington Post, "Head of Virginia GOP steps down amid Corey Stewart’s Senate campaign," 30 June 2018

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

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for dismal

Middle English, from dismal, noun, days marked as unlucky in medieval calendars, from Anglo-French, from Medieval Latin dies mali, literally, evil days

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about dismal

Statistics for dismal

Last Updated

8 Nov 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for dismal

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

See more words from the same century

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for dismal



English Language Learners Definition of dismal

: showing or causing unhappiness or sad feelings : not warm, cheerful, etc.

: very bad or poor


dis·​mal | \ˈdiz-məl \

Kids Definition of dismal

: very gloomy dismal weather

Keep scrolling for more

More from Merriam-Webster on dismal

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for dismal

Spanish Central: Translation of dismal

Nglish: Translation of dismal for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of dismal for Arabic Speakers

Comments on dismal

What made you want to look up dismal? 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!

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!