du·​bi·​ous ˈdü-bē-əs How to pronounce dubious (audio)
 also  dyü-
: unsettled in opinion : doubtful
I was dubious about the plan.
: giving rise to uncertainty: such as
: of doubtful promise or outcome
a dubious plan
: questionable or suspect as to true nature or quality
the practice is of dubious legality
dubiously adverb
dubiousness noun

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There's No Uncertainty Around the Definition of Dubious

Pop music pop quiz—which musical act had a hit with the song “Ooby Dooby”: 1950s rock-and-roll legend Roy Orbison or 1970s soft rock groovers the Doobie Brothers? Perhaps you’re dubious that the Doobies would do “Ooby Dooby.” Too obvious. On the other hand, Orbison may represent the more dubious choice if you’re an “Ooby Dooby” newbie. Regardless of which way you waffle, however, we think you’ll appreciate dubious as a word that does double duty, meaning both “uncertain or doubtful” (as in “dubious that the Doobies would do…”) and “giving rise to uncertainty as to outcome, quality, or nature” (as in “dubious choice”). And we know without a doubt that dubious comes from the Latin verb dubare, meaning “to hesitate in choice of opinions or courses,” which in turn shares roots with the Latin word duo, meaning “two.” Oh, and if you’re still of two minds about our music quiz, the answer is Orbison.

Choose the Right Synonym for dubious

doubtful, dubious, problematic, questionable mean not affording assurance of the worth, soundness, or certainty of something.

doubtful implies little more than a lack of conviction or certainty.

doubtful about whether I said the right thing

dubious stresses suspicion, mistrust, or hesitation.

dubious about the practicality of the scheme

problematic applies especially to things whose existence, meaning, fulfillment, or realization is highly uncertain.

whether the project will ever be finished is problematic

questionable may imply no more than the existence of doubt but usually suggests that the suspicions are well-grounded.

a man of questionable honesty

Examples of dubious in a Sentence

The recent rumbles and ruptures in the financial markets are finally making people reassess the dubious systems of credit that have arisen in the past few years. William Safire, New York Times Magazine, 19 Aug. 2007
Thus, the translation of the Latin word biographus as "a biography," and the limitation of "biographies" to written, printed histories of men, was perhaps inevitable. Poor Dryden was given the dubious honor of being the first to use the generic term—despite the fact that his phrase had been taken out of the context of biographical compilers, in a discussion of Plutarch. Nigel Hamilton, Biography, 2007
That indeed is the crux of the matter. Today especially, when community-oriented policing is being introduced everywhere, it seems not only ethically dubious but self-defeating to engage in practices that at their best undermine trust and cooperation between citizens and law-enforcement officials and at their worst foster cynicism toward our legal system. Edwin Dobb, Harper's, May 2002
To avoid fees, the new "relationship" minimum for checking accounts jumped from $2000 to as much as $6000. And what would customers get in exchange? The ability to take advantage of such a dubious new benefit as a consolidated monthly statement. Consumer Reports, March 1996
He made the highly dubious claim that Elvis is still alive and living in Hawaii. a man of dubious character See More
Recent Examples on the Web Put differently, the damage the United States does to its values by engaging dubious allies, and engaging in dubious behavior, is surely less than the damage that would be done if a hyperaggressive Russia or neototalitarian China spread its influence across Eurasia and beyond. Hal Brands, Foreign Affairs, 20 Feb. 2024 Fisher is dubious that emulating Walmart’s rock-bottom pricing will be effective. Sasha Rogelberg, Fortune, 16 Feb. 2024 With over 3 million people awaiting their court dates and only about 700 judges available, most migrants receive hearing dates years in the future, effectively allowing entry into the United States based on dubious claims of fear of torture or persecution in their home countries. Daniel Di Martino, National Review, 14 Feb. 2024 Over the years, Wells Fargo has developed a dubious relationship with Black Americans. Jabari Young, Forbes, 13 Feb. 2024 On fourth-and-1 in overtime, Mahomes’ option-keeper punished defensive end Nick Bosa (who had a tremendous game) for losing the edge in the dubious belief the ball would go to RB Isiah Pacheco. • Zebras gaveth and tooketh away. Tom Krasovic, San Diego Union-Tribune, 13 Feb. 2024 The rewards of city living, though, can be dubious. Pamela Newton, The Atlantic, 1 Feb. 2024 Today is not only International Holocaust Remembrance Day but also marks the 112th day since Oct. 7, a date that now has the dubious honor of recording the largest mass-murder of Jews than on any single day since the Holocaust. Leo Pearlman, Variety, 27 Jan. 2024 But the fact of so many sudden deaths over a short period of time involving high-flying London businessmen with Russian connections seemed dubious on its face. Patrick Radden Keefe, The New Yorker, 5 Feb. 2024 See More

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

Word History


Latin dubius, from dubare to vacillate; akin to Latin duo two — more at two

First Known Use

1548, in the meaning defined at sense 2

Time Traveler
The first known use of dubious was in 1548


Dictionary Entries Near dubious

Cite this Entry

“Dubious.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/dubious. Accessed 27 Feb. 2024.

Kids Definition


du·​bi·​ous ˈd(y)ü-bē-əs How to pronounce dubious (audio)
: causing doubt : uncertain
a dubious honor
: feeling doubt : undecided
dubious about our chances in the race
: of uncertain outcome
a dubious struggle
: questionable in value, quality, or origin
won by dubious means
dubiously adverb
dubiousness noun

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