fa·​tal ˈfā-tᵊl How to pronounce fatal (audio)
: causing death
a fatal crash
a fatal disease
a fatal wound
: bringing ruin
a fatal attraction to gambling
: causing failure
a fatal design flaw
Lack of sufficient support was fatal to his campaign.
: determining one's fate
the fatal flaw in this dazzling woman: a total lack of tasteMarya Mannes
: of or relating to fate
… this science sets a fatal necessity on things …H. O. Taylor
: resembling fate in proceeding according to a fixed sequence
: fateful
a fatal hour
obsolete : fated
Choose the Right Synonym for fatal

deadly, mortal, fatal, lethal mean causing or capable of causing death.

deadly applies to an established or very likely cause of death.

a deadly disease

mortal implies that death has occurred or is inevitable.

a mortal wound

fatal stresses the inevitability of what has in fact resulted in death or destruction.

fatal consequences

lethal applies to something that is bound to cause death or exists for the destruction of life.

lethal gas

Examples of fatal in a Sentence

a disease that is often fatal a chemical that can be fatal to birds She made a fatal mistake.
Recent Examples on the Web Dozens of advocates urged board members to close the halls, detailing a litany of scandals in the last year, including eight probation officers placed on leave after allegedly watching a youth get beaten and the fatal overdose of an 18-year-old. Rebecca Ellis, Los Angeles Times, 12 Apr. 2024 The fatal bullet was never recovered from the scene. Timothy H.j. Nerozzi Fox News, Fox News, 12 Apr. 2024 Earlier, there were two crashes on I-75, one fatal, both near 8 Mile, at about the same time, and closing the freeway for at least 30 minutes while first responders treated those involved and investigated what caused the damage. Detroit Free Press, 12 Apr. 2024 Tyrrell Prison Work Farm in eastern North Carolina will be equipped with security cameras after a June assault that proved fatal. Ryan Oehrli, Charlotte Observer, 12 Apr. 2024 However, that 2015 study, led by a University of Missouri engineering professor, also found 4.8% of all fatal and injury crashes occurring at the ramp terminal of a diverging diamond were wrong-way crashes. Tom Daykin, Journal Sentinel, 11 Apr. 2024 Preliminary findings point to the fatal tragedy being an accident. Syra Ortiz Blanes, Miami Herald, 11 Apr. 2024 The prosecutors also showed evidence that Gutierrez Reed was responsible for the fatal error of inadvertently bringing six live bullets to set, mixed among dummy rounds. Gene Maddaus, Variety, 11 Apr. 2024 Ever since the vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna were authorized in late 2020, anti-vaccination groups in the U.S. have blamed the shots for fatal heart problems in young athletes. Berkeley Lovelace Jr., NBC News, 11 Apr. 2024

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

Word History


Middle English, from Latin fatalis, from fatum fate

First Known Use

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 4

Time Traveler
The first known use of fatal was in the 14th century

Dictionary Entries Near fatal

Cite this Entry

“Fatal.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/fatal. Accessed 18 Apr. 2024.

Kids Definition


fa·​tal ˈfāt-ᵊl How to pronounce fatal (audio)
: deciding one's fate : fateful
on that fatal day
: causing death or ruin
a fatal accident

Medical Definition


fa·​tal ˈfāt-ᵊl How to pronounce fatal (audio)
: causing death
a fatal diabetic comaHavelock Ellis
fatally adverb

Legal Definition


: causing failure of a legal claim or cause of action
a fatal defect in the proceedingsW. R. LaFave and J. H. Israel
: making something (as a contract) invalid or unenforceable
there is a fatal indefiniteness with the result that the agreement is voidJ. D. Calamari and J. M. Perillo
fatally adverb

More from Merriam-Webster on fatal

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