fear·​ful ˈfir-fəl How to pronounce fearful (audio)
: causing or likely to cause fear, fright, or alarm especially because of dangerous quality
a fearful storm
: full of fear
fearful for his safety
: indicating or arising from fear
a fearful glance
: inclined to fear : timorous
: very great or bad
used as an intensive
a fearful wastefearful slum conditions
fearfully adverb
fearfulness noun
Choose the Right Synonym for fearful

fearful, apprehensive, afraid mean disturbed by fear.

fearful implies often a timorous or worrying temperament.

the child is fearful of loud noises

apprehensive suggests a state of mind and implies a premonition of evil or danger.

apprehensive of being found out

afraid often suggests weakness or cowardice and regularly implies inhibition of action or utterance.

afraid to speak the truth

Example Sentences

He plays the role of a timid and fearful clerk. They won the war but at a fearful cost.
Recent Examples on the Web No one wants their child, like the student from Plymouth, to feel fearful going in and learning. Dave Boucher, Detroit Free Press, 27 Jan. 2023 Many remain fearful, pointing to the mass shooting earlier this month that killed four people on the West Side and seriously injured an 8-year-old girl. Olivia Mitchell, cleveland, 24 Jan. 2023 Cen had planned to bring her sister Doris, 11, to the city’s Lunar New Year celebration Sunday, but the shooting left them fearful of venturing into the area. Los Angeles Times, 22 Jan. 2023 In it, the husband unwittingly discovers the titillating social media posts and falls in love with its writing, fearful that this is a betrayal of his wife. Nicholas Ivor Martin And Jacobina Martin, oregonlive, 21 Jan. 2023 In it, the husband unwittingly discovers the titillating social media posts and falls in love with its writing, fearful that this is a betrayal of his wife. Jacobina Martin, Washington Post, 21 Jan. 2023 For the past dozen years, House members have declined to take a cost-of-living increase in the annual spending bills, fearful of a political backlash if they were seen to give themselves a raise. Reid J. Epstein, New York Times, 13 Jan. 2023 The royal couple’s plans to meet with industry leaders there have left locals fearful that traffic will be snarled on side streets, and their beloved Market Basket could be inaccessible. Globe Staff, BostonGlobe.com, 30 Nov. 2022 But rules are for the fashion fearful — style however your heart desires. Alyssa Brascia, Peoplemag, 8 Nov. 2022 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'fearful.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

Word History


Middle English feerful, fereful "inspiring dread, frightened," from fer fear entry 1 + -ful -ful entry 1

First Known Use

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

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

Dictionary Entries Near fearful

Cite this Entry

“Fearful.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/fearful. Accessed 5 Feb. 2023.

Kids Definition


fear·​ful ˈfi(ə)r-fəl How to pronounce fearful (audio)
: causing fear
the fearful roar of a lion
: filled with fear
fearful of danger
: showing or caused by fear
a fearful glance
: extremely bad, large, or intense
fearful cold
fearfully adverb
fearfulness noun

More from Merriam-Webster on fearful

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