\ˈfau̇(-ə)l \

Definition of foul 

(Entry 1 of 4)

1a : offensive to the senses : loathsome the foul odor of rotten eggs

b : filled or covered with offensive matter foul bins of filth

2 : full of dirt or mud

3a : morally or spiritually odious : detestable a foul crime

b : notably unpleasant or distressing : wretched, horrid in a foul mood

4 : obscene, abusive foul language

5a : being wet and stormy foul weather

b : obstructive to navigation a foul tide

6 dialectal British : homely, ugly

7a : treacherous, dishonorable fair means or foul

b : constituting an infringement (see infringe sense 1) of rules in a game or sport a foul blow in boxing

8 : containing marked-up corrections a foul manuscript foul proofs

9 : encrusted, clogged, or choked with a foreign substance the chimney was foul and smoked badly

10 : being odorous and impure : polluted foul air

11 : placed in a situation that impedes physical movement : entangled a foul fishing line

12 : being outside the foul lines in baseball … a foul fly that was snagged by a fan in the stands.— E. M. Swift



Definition of foul (Entry 2 of 4)

1 archaic : something foul

2 : an entanglement or collision especially in angling or sailing

3a : an infringement of the rules in a game or sport

b : free throw

4 : foul ball


fouled; fouling; fouls

Definition of foul (Entry 3 of 4)

intransitive verb

1 : to become or be foul: such as

a : decompose, rot

b : to become encrusted, clogged, or choked with a foreign substance

c : to become entangled or come into collision

2 : to commit a violation of the rules in a sport or game

3 : to hit a foul ball

transitive verb

1 : to make foul: such as

a : to make dirty : pollute

b : to tangle or come into collision with

c : to encrust with a foreign substance a ship's bottom fouled with barnacles

d : obstruct, block

3 : to commit a foul against

4 : to hit (a baseball) foul



Definition of foul (Entry 4 of 4)

: in a foul manner : so as to be foul

Keep scrolling for more

Other Words from foul


foully \ˈfau̇(l)-​lē \ adverb
foulness noun

Choose the Right Synonym for foul


dirty, filthy, foul, nasty, squalid mean conspicuously unclean or impure. dirty emphasizes the presence of dirt more than an emotional reaction to it. a dirty littered street filthy carries a strong suggestion of offensiveness and typically of gradually accumulated dirt that begrimes and besmears. a stained greasy floor, utterly filthy foul implies extreme offensiveness and an accumulation of what is rotten or stinking. a foul-smelling open sewer nasty applies to what is actually foul or is repugnant to one expecting freshness, cleanliness, or sweetness. it's a nasty job to clean up after a sick cat In practice, nasty is often weakened to the point of being no more than a synonym of unpleasant or disagreeable. had a nasty fall his answer gave her a nasty shock squalid adds to the idea of dirtiness and filth that of slovenly neglect. squalid slums All these terms are also applicable to moral uncleanness or baseness or obscenity. dirty then stresses meanness or despicableness don't ask me to do your dirty work , while filthy and foul describe disgusting obscenity or loathsome behavior filthy street language a foul story of lust and greed , and nasty implies a peculiarly offensive unpleasantness. a stand-up comedian known for nasty humor Distinctively, squalid implies sordidness as well as baseness and dirtiness. engaged in a series of squalid affairs

Examples of foul in a Sentence


the foul odor of rotten eggs The medicine left a foul taste in my mouth. The weather has been foul all week.


He hit several fouls in a row.


pollutants that foul the air She fouled on her first long jump attempt. He was fouled as he attempted the shot. He kept fouling pitches into the stands.
See More

Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective

The Golden State Warriors attempted 13 foul shots in the first 24 minutes and made 12 of them, while the Cavaliers didn't get a single attempt from the line prior to halftime. Khadrice Rollins,, "Look: Dan Gilbert Deletes Tweet Criticizing Refs for First-Half Free Throw Discrepancy," 6 June 2018 After Kareem missed the second of two foul shots, Mychal Thompson (Klay’s dad) fought for the rebound with McHale, who nudged it out of bounds. Bruce Jenkins, San Francisco Chronicle, "How the Warriors, Cavaliers are linked in history," 30 May 2018 James' 15-of-15 foul shots in Game 5 were the most he's ever made without a miss in his career, regular season or playoffs. Joe Vardon,, "Cleveland Cavaliers at Indiana Pacers, Eastern Conference Round 1, Game 6 preview and listings," 27 Apr. 2018 The Rockets connected on 37.2 percent (16-of-43) of their 3s and 88.5 percent (23-of-26) of their foul shots, outscoring the Timberwolves 69-51 during the second half. Brian T. Smith, Houston Chronicle, "James Harden, Rockets blow by Timberwolves in Game 4," 23 Apr. 2018 The Heat’s missed foul shots and misplays down the stretch cost them any chance to win. Dave Hyde,, "Hyde: Heat turnovers, missed free throws miss real issue — 76ers are flat-out better | Commentary," 22 Apr. 2018 Isaiah Moses knocked down six of seven foul shots en route to a game-high 20 points and Nicolas Horning hit 7 of 11 on his way to 17 points for the Lynx. Anchorage Daily News, "Three Anchorage teams advance to Class 4A boys basketball semifinals," 23 Mar. 2018 Key, the Tide's sophomore swingman, was sent to the free throw line and made two of the three foul shots, cutting Alabama's deficit and making the score, 66-63. Rainer Sabin,, "Alabama falls to Texas A&M in wretched finale," 3 Mar. 2018 Male missed its first nine 3-pointers and attempted just nine free throws — the Bulldogs entered averaging more than 17 foul shots per game. Nate Bryan, The Courier-Journal, "Sacred Heart cruises past Male, Manual upends Eastern to advance to Seventh Region final," 1 Mar. 2018

Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

The horrendous shooting continued as Nowell, Dickerson and Matisse Thybulle collected two fouls and went to the bench with UW traIling 21-11 at the 11:02 mark. Percy Allen, The Seattle Times, "Noah Dickerson posts impressive double-double as Huskies top Texas A&M 71-67," 20 Nov. 2018 Sweden-South Korea was full of starts and stops due to the game being filled with 43 fouls. Grant Wahl,, "European World Cup Dominance Continues As England, Belgium, Sweden Win," 18 June 2018 The first half, by contrast, was a nightmare for Curry, who picked up two early fouls. Scott Cacciola, New York Times, "Kevin Durant Pulls Warriors Closer to Another N.B.A. Title," 7 June 2018 With Andre Iguodala out with a bruised knee and Curry sitting with five minutes left in the half with three fouls, the Rockets rolled through a 12-0 run to a 10-point lead. Jonathan Feigen, Houston Chronicle, "Rockets rally in thrilling fourth quarter, hold off Warriors to even series," 22 May 2018 Griner had two early fouls and played just 4:33 in the first quarter. Jeff Metcalfe, azcentral, "Diana Taurasi hits 1,000th career 3-pointer in Mercury's season-opening win," 18 May 2018 But Miles picked up two quick fouls and the Cavs' offense was in gear from the start as Cleveland opened 12 of 15 from the floor while building a 26-17 lead. Tom Withers,, "LeBron James, Cavaliers sweep Raptors to reach fourth-straight conference finals," 7 May 2018 Sixers: Covington still hit the bench early in the second quarter with three quick fouls. ... Dan Gelston,, "76ers Hold Off Elimination With 103-92 Win Over Celtics," 7 May 2018 Earlier, Richardson, who was in the starting lineup despite a shoulder sprain, was forced to the bench 91 seconds in with two fouls, leading to an early entry for Rodney McGruder. Ira Winderman,, "Heat eliminated with whimper, offseason of uncertainty awaits," 25 Apr. 2018

Recent Examples on the Web: Verb

The skirmish began when Lakers forward Brandon Ingram fouled Houston Rockets guard James Harden with 4:13 left and proceeded to shove Harden in the back and confront the referee after the call. Ben Cohen, WSJ, "LeBron James’s First Game in Los Angeles Turns Into Fight Night," 21 Oct. 2018 The fight started after Puig showed his frustration from fouling off a pitch from Giants reliever Tony Watson. Ryan Gaydos, Fox News, "Like old times: Dodgers, Giants brawl as pennant race heats up," 15 Aug. 2018 Ohtani spent much of Sunday morning undergoing treatment after fouling a ball off his right knee Saturday. Mike Digiovanna,, "Shohei Ohtani comes through in a pinch against Dodgers," 9 July 2018 Some, then, have come to the defense of Neymar, who has been fouled 23 times already at this tournament, more than any other player by a wide margin. Andrew Keh, New York Times, "Neymar and the Art of the Dive," 5 July 2018 The idea was that corporate involvement automatically fouled the human connection between the artist and the audience, and if a musician was foolish enough to dabble with such dark forces, they were swiftly banished to the valley of the sellouts. Chris Richards,, "The 5 hardest questions in pop music," 3 July 2018 Braun opened with a bunt single -- just his second successful attempt in the last four seasons -- and two batters later Broxton fouled a bunt attempt off before singling Braun in. Todd Rosiak, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Brewers 8, Reds 2: Keon Broxton sparks offense with huge night," 29 June 2018 In Brazil’s opening 1-1 draw against Switzerland, Neymar had been fouled 10 times, sometimes harshly., "Brazil scores twice in injury time to eliminate Costa Rica," 22 June 2018 The offensive performances largely have been uneven during summer league, with much of the scoring coming from the free-throw line against foul-prone opponents lacking the ability to defend at the NBA level without fouling. Ira Winderman,, "Bam Adebayo leaving Heat with both questions, answers in summer league," 12 July 2018

Recent Examples on the Web: Adverb

About 100 of his neighbors are living in tents and makeshift sheds and using foul-smelling improvised toilets in outdoor camps. Fox News, "Damaged buildings, graft haunt Mexico City year after quake," 18 Sep. 2018 Florida’s recount has drawn national attention, with Republicans crying foul and claiming voter fraud and Democrats asking that every vote be counted. Emily Stewart, Vox, "The 2018 midterm races that still aren’t over," 14 Nov. 2018 The Longhorns limit threes, get back in transition well and also don't foul often, meaning the Jayhawks will have to run good half-court offense to get open shots. Jesse Newell, kansascity, "Quick scout: Why a non-senior could have a big night against Texas | The Kansas City Star," 26 Feb. 2018 Officials can also check if a foul occurred inside or outside the penalty area. Nick Schwartz, For The Win, "Everything you need to know about VAR, the video system that will change the World Cup," 16 June 2018 They didn’t foul much The Hornets also were disciplined in avoiding fouls. Josh Robbins,, "Steve Clifford’s teams rarely beat themselves," 31 May 2018 Terry Stotts disputes a foul with official John Goble as the Portland Trail Blazers face the New Orleans Pelicans in Game 2 of the 2018 NBA playoffs first-round matchup at Moda Center in Portland, Oregon on Tuesday, April 17, 2018., "PHOTOS: Portland Trail Blazers vs. New Orleans Pelicans, NBA playoffs 2018 Game 2," 17 Apr. 2018 North Carolina Republicans are crying foul over a candidate who could change the balance of the state Supreme Court. Jim Morrill And Anne Blythe, charlotteobserver, "How this GOP candidate could help Democrats keep control of the NC Supreme Court," 4 July 2018 Jesse Fenner then tried twice, to put down a squeeze bunt, but both attempts went foul. Randy Mcroberts, The Aegis, "Wettig delivers walk-off single in Havre de Grace baseball win over Perryville," 27 Apr. 2018

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


before the 12th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a


before the 12th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1


before the 12th century, in the meaning defined at intransitive sense 1


13th century, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for foul


Middle English, from Old English fūl; akin to Old High German fūl rotten, Latin pus pus, putēre to stink, Greek pyon pus


see foul entry 1

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about foul

Statistics for foul

Last Updated

20 Nov 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for foul

The first known use of foul was before the 12th century

See more words from the same century

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for foul



English Language Learners Definition of foul

 (Entry 1 of 3)

: very unpleasant to taste or smell

: morally bad : very evil

: very bad or unpleasant



English Language Learners Definition of foul (Entry 2 of 3)

sports : an action that is against the rules and for which a player is given a penalty

baseball : a batted ball that lands outside the foul lines : a foul ball



English Language Learners Definition of foul (Entry 3 of 3)

: to make (a substance, place, etc.) dirty

sports : to commit a foul

: to commit a foul against (another player)


\ˈfau̇l \
fouler; foulest

Kids Definition of foul

 (Entry 1 of 3)

1 : disgusting in looks, taste, or smell In the warm months, a foul odor rose …— Kate DiCamillo, The Tale of Despereaux

2 : full of or covered with something that pollutes foul air

3 : being vulgar or insulting foul language

4 : being wet and stormy foul weather

5 : very unfair She would even use foul methods to get what she wanted.

6 : very unpleasant or bad a foul mood

7 : breaking a rule in a game or sport The boxer was warned for using a foul punch.

8 : being outside the foul lines He hit a foul ball.



Kids Definition of foul (Entry 2 of 3)

1 : a ball in baseball that is batted outside the foul lines

2 : an act of breaking the rules in a game or sport


fouled; fouling

Kids Definition of foul (Entry 3 of 3)

1 : to make or become foul or filthy foul the air foul a stream

2 : to make a foul in a game

Keep scrolling for more

More from Merriam-Webster on foul

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with foul

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for foul

Spanish Central: Translation of foul

Nglish: Translation of foul for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of foul for Arabic Speakers Encyclopedia article about foul

Comments on foul

What made you want to look up foul? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


the figure or shape of a crescent moon

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Late Autumn 2018 Words of the Day Quiz

  • frosted-autumn-leaves
  • Which is a synonym of yahoo?
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?


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!