\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

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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.
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Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective

Residents have been complaining about brown-colored water with a foul odor. Adam Elmahrek,, "At a meeting about brown water pouring from taps, congresswoman says people were paid to speak out in favor of water district," 19 June 2018 Police said there was a foul odor coming from the room that officers associated with the smell of a decomposing body. Sarah Brookbank,, "Police: Woman kept boyfriend's body in Sharonville motel room for 4 days after OD death," 15 June 2018 Likewise, 30 years ago, the river's aesthetics were routinely contaminated by sludge, oil, scum and other nuisance materials that produced foul odors and unattractive colors in the water. James F. Mccarty,, "Cuyahoga River to celebrate new achievements for improved public access, aesthetics," 27 Apr. 2018 Flies buzzed in the area and a foul odor came from the vehicle. Max Londberg, kansascity, "After man's body decomposed in KCI lot for months, family alleges negligence in suit | The Kansas City Star," 20 Apr. 2018 Residents of the area, including the Rev. Ronald Smith and Phyllis Gosa, have alleged that since the landfill arrived, the town has been plagued by buzzards, foul odors, speeding garbage trucks and increased traffic on local roads. Dennis Pillion,, "Judge: EPA's delayed response to Alabama landfill complaint violated law," 5 Apr. 2018 This Car Plug-In Air Purifier boosts your vehicle’s air quality, zapping foul odors and filtering out irritating allergens like dust and pollen — without producing any kind of scent to mask it. Taylor A Puskaric, USA TODAY, "5 Car Gadgets Every Roadtripper Needs," 4 Apr. 2018 Miami scored an unearned run in the first, and capped a six-run second on Martin Prado's three-run homer off the left-field foul pole., "Marlins melt down as Nats rally from down 9-0, win 14-12 behind Trea Turner's 8 RBI," 5 July 2018 Alex Bregman pulled a sinker on the inner half inside the left-field foul pole for a fourth-inning solo home run — the first baserunner and hit Junis ceded. Chandler Rome, Houston Chronicle, "Evan Gattis' grand slam lifts Astros over Royals," 15 June 2018

Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

Does a nice job of drawing fouls and playing through contact, but shot just 44.6% on shots around the rim. Ben Ladner,, "Timberwolves Select Josh Okogie With No. 20 Pick in 2018 NBA Draft," 21 June 2018 Referee Damir Skomina awarded Sweden a penalty in stoppage time for a foul by Michael Lang on Martin Olsson but overturned his own decision after a review showed Lang's push was just outside the area. Houston Chronicle, "England defeats Colombia on PKs to reach World Cup quarterfinals," 3 July 2018 By that point, Switzerland's misery had been compounded by Michael Lang's deserved red card for a professional foul., "Sweden 1-0 Switzerland: Unlucky Deflection Breaks Swiss Hearts in Drab World Cup Last 16 Clash," 3 July 2018 Timbers midfielder Diego Chara, who was making his club-record 215th appearance for Portland, was shown a yellow card for a foul on Boateng in the 62nd minute. Jamie Goldberg,, "Portland Timbers fight back to earn 1-1 draw with LA Galaxy as winning streak comes to an end," 3 June 2018 Aside from the block-charge ruling, the report also said that Draymond Green should have been called for a foul against James with 12 seconds remaining before George Hill got to the free throw line. Jeff Zillgitt, USA TODAY, "NBA's Last Two-Minute report: Draymond Green committed lane violation on George Hill FT," 1 June 2018 Tempers flared during Thursday’s NBA Finals opener as Tristan Thompson was called for a flagrant foul two during overtime against the Golden State Warriors. Karen Mizoguchi,, "Tristan Thompson Calls NBA Finals Game 1 Incident 'Bulls--t' as He Faces Possible Suspension," 1 June 2018 The report said Baynes should have been called for a foul on Joel Embiid’s game-tying layup attempt with 14.6 seconds left. Keith Pompey,, "NBA admits to late mistakes that hurt the Sixers in Game 5 against the Celtics," 11 May 2018 In Game 4, DeRozan was ejected for a flagrant foul. Terry Pluto,, "Cleveland Cavaliers Sweeping Scribbles: Team unity and Rodney Hood's issues -- Terry Pluto (photos)," 8 May 2018

Recent Examples on the Web: Verb

The criticism came after England were awarded a penalty when Carlos Sanchez was adjudged to have fouled Harry Kane in the box from a corner, leaving the Colombians furious., "John Stones Hits Back at High Profile 'Cheating' Accusations After England's Win Over Colombia," 6 July 2018 South Korea seems to be fouling Germany every few minutes. Christopher Clarey, New York Times, "Germany Crashes Out of World Cup With a Loss to South Korea," 28 June 2018 The Warriors cut it to 74-64 with five quick points from Durant, but the Rockets opened it back up to 89-72 when Gordon made an off-balance layup before crashing to the court while being fouled and made the free throw. Kristie Rieken,, "Rockets rout Warriors 127-105 to tie series at 1-all," 16 May 2018 Harry Kane was fouled by Carlos Sanchez, and the referee pointed to the penalty spot., "It's Coming Home! Twitter Reacts as England Win a Bloody Penalty Shootout at the World Cup," 3 July 2018 Others, including Brazil’s coach, felt the Swiss goal came as a result of a push, and that Neymar had been unfairly fouled by the Swiss team—there were a total of 10 fouls on him in total. Siobhan Morrin, Time, "The 5 Biggest Shocks in the World Cup So Far," 18 June 2018 Barkley was fouled by SuperSonics center Michael Cage and sent to the line. azcentral, "Arizona Republic staff's best memories of 1992-93 Phoenix Suns," 16 June 2018 Barlow's 1-1 pitch also was fouled off by Pinder ... and it also was caught by the same fan. Pete Grathoff, kansascity, "What are the odds? Fan at Royals' game catches two foul balls on consecutive pitches," 11 June 2018 In the final minutes of the first half during the Cleveland Cavaliers' 105-103 win Saturday night, Raptors big man Serge Ibaka was fouled by George Hill on what appeared to be an and-one basket. Chris Fedor,, "Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri fined $25,000 for walking on court to yell at referees during Game 3 loss," 6 May 2018

Recent Examples on the Web: Adverb

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 Republicans cried foul, despite threatening the nuclear option in the past, and Democrats who had been opposed to such a rule change quickly changed their tune. CBS News, "Nuclear option: Why Trump's Supreme Court pick needs only 51 votes," 9 July 2018 Gafford still lacks a level of polish and consistency and can be foul-prone. Jeremy Woo,, "2019 NBA Draft Big Board: Top 60 Prospects," 27 June 2018 In the 10th, Janet Jolly executed a squeeze bunt that scored Sofia Knopf, but the celebration was short-lived as the ball rolled inches foul. Brandan Blom,, "Newton North, Methuen reach Division 1 North softball final," 15 June 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.

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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

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Statistics for foul

Last Updated

9 Oct 2018

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Time Traveler for foul

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

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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

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