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dread·​ful ˈdred-fəl How to pronounce dreadful (audio)
: inspiring dread (see dread entry 2 sense 1a) : causing great and oppressive fear
a dreadful attack
: inspiring awe or reverence
: extremely bad, distasteful, unpleasant, or shocking
a dreadful idea
a dreadful performance
dreadful behavior
The food was absolutely dreadful.
: extreme
dreadful disorder
dreadfully adverb
dreadfulness noun


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: a cheap and sensational (see sensational sense 2) story or periodical

Examples of dreadful in a Sentence

Adjective Her performance was absolutely dreadful. Those children have such dreadful manners.
Recent Examples on the Web
And there was a dreadful, dreary closed childrens’ psychiatric hospital that was kind of haunted and horrible. Charlie Hobbs, Condé Nast Traveler, 10 Nov. 2023 These Bruins were half-baked — great offense, dreadful defense. Ben Bolch, Los Angeles Times, 1 Nov. 2023 And while a speaker may eventually emerge, the same dreadful conditions will likely prevail. Alex Shephard, The New Republic, 20 Oct. 2023 She’s joined in the raunchy fun by Billy Porter’s character Ocean, who leads the school’s choir into song about the dreadful years ahead. Kalia Richardson, Rolling Stone, 20 Oct. 2023 What we’re left with is a dreadful, sometimes surpassingly dull taxonomy of wickedness, as the greedy, lunkheaded Ernest succumbs to Hale’s venal spell, while also falling in love with and marrying an Osage woman named Mollie. Ann Hornaday, Washington Post, 18 Oct. 2023 The veteran team will need to regroup on Monday’s off day following a dreadful 1-5 trip against the Colorado Rockies and Arizona Diamondbacks. Meghan Montemurro, Chicago Tribune, 17 Sep. 2023 Then again, having witnessed the Chargers’ dreadful attempt to stop the Dolphins and quarterback Tua Tagovailoa in Week 1, perhaps coach Mike Vrabel will give Tannehill the bigger bounce-back opportunity. Jeff Miller, Los Angeles Times, 15 Sep. 2023 The same investors who thought the stock market was such a dreadful place last year have changed their tune. Michael Joseph, Fortune, 14 Sep. 2023
In 1989, there were 892,055 cases of Guinea worm disease, a dreadful and debilitating waterborne parasitic infection historically endemic to Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. Tony Morley, Time, 28 Dec. 2022 The comical bumps up against the chaotic, the domestic beats back the dreadful. Ed Stockly, Los Angeles Times, 24 Aug. 2022 The program is filled out with two original stories written by Novotny; including one with a character from a penny dreadful — the pulp fiction of the age. Annie Alleman, Chicago Tribune, 14 Sep. 2022 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'dreadful.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History



see dread entry 1


see dread entry 1

First Known Use


13th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a


circa 1873, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of dreadful was in the 13th century

Dictionary Entries Near dreadful

Cite this Entry

“Dreadful.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/dreadful. Accessed 28 Nov. 2023.

Kids Definition


: causing dread or awe
a dreadful storm
: very disagreeable, unpleasant, or shocking
a dreadful cold
dreadful news

More from Merriam-Webster on dreadful

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