\ 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

Los Angeles Times Authorities voted to dissolve the troubled Sativa Los Angeles County Water District after customers in Compton and Willowbrook complained of foul drinking water. Shelby Grad,, "Essential California: A big change at the University of California," 12 July 2018 Privacy - Terms Already, the foul phenomenon has factored heavily in the U.S. Senate race between Republican Gov. Rick Scott and Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson. David Smiley And Mary Ellen Klas, miamiherald, "Florida’s politicians use slimy algae to muddy each other," 11 July 2018 As right fielder Joey Rickard made a diving catch of Miguel Andujar’s pop foul down the line, Schoop, the second baseman, inadvertently kicked Rickard’s glove off and the ball popped loose. New York Times, "Loss to Orioles Offers Yankees a Glimpse of What They Could Acquire," 10 July 2018 With Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis often dealing with foul trouble — Sabonis was called for four or more fouls 28 times in 74 games; Turner 25 times in 65 games — O'Quinn should be a nice bench piece. Matthew Glenesk, Indianapolis Star, "Pacers' free agency continues with big man Kyle O'Quinn," 6 July 2018 The Martha has one eye and a foul mouth, the first clue that there is something off about this household. Rena Gross, Billboard, "'The Handmaid's Tale' Season 2, Episode 12 Recap: 15 Reactions to 'Postpartum'," 4 July 2018 The foul weather location is the Arts Center of Tolland. Courant Community, "Community News For The Vernon Edition," 2 July 2018 Day-in and day-out, father would pitch to son with these stakes: Hit five line drives in a row, and the father would have to run to the foul pole and back. Vahe Gregorian, kansascity, "With a knack for the spectacular, precocious Khalil Lee is moving up rapidly in Royals system," 28 June 2018 The raid was conducted after local residents filed complaints of a foul smell radiating from the processing plant. The Christian Science Monitor, "Thailand takes first step toward total ban of e-waste," 21 June 2018

Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

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 Late in the first half of Monday’s Game 4 in Philadelphia, Celtics guard Terry Rozier was called for an offensive foul for throwing a hand to J.J. Redick’s face. Andrew Joseph, For The Win, "Joel Embiid and Terry Rozier got into a heated scuffle during Game 4," 7 May 2018

Recent Examples on the Web: Verb

When fines for pollution are too low, some companies will choose to foul the water. Robert Hackett, Fortune, "The Ledger: The Risk for Crypto Firms of Playing by the Rules," 23 June 2018 The technology was thrust into the spotlight on Monday when England fans called into question the VAR's choice to not award two clear penalties when captain Harry Kane appeared to be fouled in the match against Tunisia. Alyssa Newcomb /, NBC News, "Video-assisted referees help make tough calls at the World Cup," 19 June 2018 And teams trying to erase a deficit won’t have to constantly foul. Pat Disabato, Daily Southtown, "Disabato: Three, two, one ... shot clock looks to be coming to Illinois high school basketball," 20 Apr. 2018 Jeren Williams was fouled and made two free throws to clinch the victory. Eric Sondheimer,, "Chino Hills overcomes 43 by Crespi’s Brandon Williams," 11 Mar. 2018 Jared Harper got fouled on the ensuing possession and stepped to the line and knocked down a pair of free throws to tie the game, but Florida once again had the answer. Tom Green,, "No. 12 Auburn rallies in 2nd half but falls at Florida," 24 Feb. 2018 Olynyk grabbed a defensive rebound off a Kemba Walker missed jumper with 3.6 seconds left and drove the length of the floor before Howard fouled him. Manny Navarro, miamiherald, "Heat pulls off miraculous finish in Charlotte, rally from five down to beat Hornets," 20 Jan. 2018 After going to replay, the officials confirmed the turnover, forcing the Cavs to foul on the ensuing inbounds play. Chris Fedor,, "LeBron James admits to stepping out of bounds on late-game baseline drive against Indiana Pacers," 13 Jan. 2018 Detroit Mercy’s Josh McFolley was fouled on a fast-break layup attempt and hit two free throws to tie it at 54. Associated Press, Detroit Free Press, "College hoops: Oakland (in OT), Detroit Mercy lose close ones at home," 7 Jan. 2018

Recent Examples on the Web: Adverb

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 Officers were called to the area about 9:30 a.m. May 18 when someone walking near the intersection smelled something foul coming from a vehicle on an embankment, South Fulton police Cpl. Raisa Habersham, ajc, "BREAKING: Man arrested weeks after body found in car in South Fulton," 8 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

28 Aug 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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Comments on foul

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a magnificent or impressive array

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