1
a
: offensive to the senses : loathsome
the foul odor of rotten eggs
b
: filled or covered with offensive matter
foul bins of filth
2
: being odorous and impure : polluted
foul air
3
a
: morally or spiritually odious : detestable
a foul crime
b
: notably unpleasant or distressing : wretched, horrid
in a foul mood
4
: obscene, abusive
foul language
5
a
: being wet and stormy
foul weather
b
: obstructive to navigation
a foul tide
6
a
: 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
7
: being outside the foul lines in baseball
… a foul fly that was snagged by a fan in the stands.E. M. Swift
8
: containing marked-up corrections
a foul manuscript
foul proofs
9
: full of dirt or mud
10
: encrusted, clogged, or choked with a foreign substance
the chimney was foul and smoked badly
11
: placed in a situation that impedes physical movement : entangled
a foul fishing line
12
dialectal British : homely, ugly
foully adverb
foulness noun

foul

2 of 4

noun

1
a
: an infringement of the rules in a game or sport
2
3
: an entanglement or collision especially in angling or sailing
4
archaic : something foul

foul

3 of 4

verb

fouled; fouling; fouls

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
2
3
: to commit a foul against
4
: to hit (a baseball) foul

intransitive verb

1
: to commit a violation of the rules in a sport or game
2
: to hit a foul ball
3
: to become or be foul: such as
a
b
: to become encrusted, clogged, or choked with a foreign substance
c
: to become entangled or come into collision

foul

4 of 4

adverb

: in a foul manner : so as to be foul
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

Adjective the foul odor of rotten eggs The medicine left a foul taste in my mouth. The weather has been foul all week. Noun He hit several fouls in a row. Verb 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.
Recent Examples on the Web
Adjective
Blackburn that got Garcia on a foul pop for the third out. Jerry McDonald, The Mercury News, 13 Apr. 2024 Point guard Isaiah Fuller leads NSU in assists (3.4) and foul shooting (84.7). Walter Villa, Miami Herald, 29 Mar. 2024 There are many foul things about the Trump movement. Jay Nordlinger, National Review, 5 Apr. 2024 The island’s wide, open beaches were perfect for careening hulls, beaching ships and listing them to one side to scrape off the foul barnacles and shipworms that infest the tropical Caribbean. Sean Kingsley, Smithsonian Magazine, 2 Apr. 2024 The ball had plenty of distance going over the left field fence, but was called foul by third base umpire Javerro January. Bob Holt, arkansasonline.com, 31 Mar. 2024 The second batter of the bottom of the first, Fernando Tatis Jr., popped a pitch from Giants starter Daulton Jefferies into foul territory to the right of first base. Evan Webeck, The Mercury News, 31 Mar. 2024 Cincinnati Observatory is the oldest operating professional observatory in the U.S. Relocating the observatory to Mount Lookout Within a few decades, the Cincinnati air was foul with soot and smoke from the growing city. Jeff Suess, The Enquirer, 24 Mar. 2024 Kyle, the mayor, criticized the dairy company in 2022 after a broken valve on a Prairie Farms tanker truck spilled gallons of milk into the lagoon, fueling a particularly foul spate of odors, according to the Star-Herald, a Kosciusko newspaper. Daniel Wu, Washington Post, 20 Mar. 2024
Noun
Exceptions include head injuries, goalkeeper injuries, serious medical events and fouls resulting in yellow or red cards. Daniel Sperry, Kansas City Star, 18 Apr. 2024 Ellis, Murray and Barnes hit 3-pointers to fuel an 11-0 run that put Sacramento up 69-57, but there was a sense of uneasiness when Sabonis picked up his fourth foul with 6:57 to play in the third. Jason Anderson, Sacramento Bee, 17 Apr. 2024 Green hasn’t picked up a flagrant foul since returning. Danny Emerman, The Mercury News, 12 Apr. 2024 The Bucks also committed just four fouls all game, the fewest in NBA history. Matias Grez, CNN, 10 Apr. 2024 Instead, no foul was called and the Pacers grabbed the defensive rebound after Herro missed the three-pointer. Anthony Chiang, Miami Herald, 8 Apr. 2024 The came together enough to overcome Brazil’s advantages for possession (56.5 to 43.5), shots on goal (11-7) and fouls, with nearly twice as many. Bryce Miller, San Diego Union-Tribune, 11 Mar. 2024 The new rule: no demonstrative complaints about fouls. Louisa Thomas, The New Yorker, 9 Mar. 2024 The foul gave the ball back to Iowa and Caitlin Clark made her first free throw shortly afterwards, after she had been fouled by Paige Bueckers with 3.1 seconds left. Issy Ronald, CNN, 6 Apr. 2024
Verb
Weeds, of course, can easily foul your lures, especially if they’re loaded with treble hooks, so the key is fishing over and around the weeds without running directly through the salad. Joe Cermele, Outdoor Life, 18 Apr. 2024 Jovic was whistled for fouling Isaiah Stewart, despite seemingly minimal contact on the play. Barry Jackson, Miami Herald, 6 Mar. 2024 Davenport fouled Manjon, who hit two free throws to give the Commodores an 85-82 advantage with 3.5 seconds remaining. Bob Holt, arkansasonline.com, 28 Feb. 2024 Lazar Stefanovic scored a season-high 19 points playing all 40 minutes for the Bruins (14-12, 9-6), who lost leading scorer Sebastian Mack in the first half after he was ejected for fouling Carlson. Beth Harris, USA TODAY, 19 Feb. 2024 On the ensuing inbounds pass, the Heat then fouled Pacers center Myles Turner to preserve the game clock. Anthony Chiang, Miami Herald, 7 Apr. 2024 Parrish got his second for allegedly fouling Ian Martinez on a 3-point attempt when replays showed Martinez kicked out his right leg. Mark Zeigler, San Diego Union-Tribune, 16 Mar. 2024 Alabama broke Arkansas' press before the Razorbacks could foul and freshman forward Mark Walters scored on a breakaway dunk with three seconds left to clinch the game. Bob Holt, arkansasonline.com, 10 Mar. 2024 But Shaq got fouled every play ... and Shaq fouled every play. Shane Young, Forbes, 22 Feb. 2024
Adverb
Rather than wait to find out the real reasons—which turned out to be a technical issue that Meta fixed within 90 minutes—members of election-denial groups and conspiracy channels on Telegram quickly claimed foul. David Gilbert, WIRED, 6 Mar. 2024 The ball seemed to be curving foul but stayed inside the Pesky Pole and dropped on the warning track a few feet beyond. Peter Abraham, BostonGlobe.com, 19 Apr. 2023 The one-two pitch on the way: curveball, tapped foul off to the left of the plate. Houston Mitchell, Los Angeles Times, 10 Oct. 2023 Felsen called foul, arguing in court papers that the term went beyond prosecutors’ request for enough time to complete the youth program. Dan Morse, Washington Post, 9 Sep. 2023 Miller got a couple assists in the next at-bat, when Tigers slugger Spencer Torkelson first pulled a potential grand slam just foul, then hit a line drive in the gap that was snared by center fielder James Outman with a spectacular, diving catch. Jack Harris, Los Angeles Times, 21 Sep. 2023 However, musical genres such as reggaeton, popularized by artists such as Bad Bunny, could fall foul, after drawing criticism in some quarters for explicit and sexist lyrics. Jack Guy, CNN, 2 Aug. 2023 Josef Martinez cut the deficit with a penalty kick in the 84th minute, after an Andrew Farrell foul attempting a clearance. Frank Dell'apa, BostonGlobe.com, 10 June 2023 His grand slam off Gavin Guidry in the third was a high fly that looked to be headed foul, but the 20-mph wind blowing left to right pushed it inside the left-field foul pole. Eric Olson, ajc, 26 June 2023

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

Word History

Etymology

Adjective and Noun

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

First Known Use

Adjective

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

Noun

before the 12th century, in the meaning defined at sense 4

Verb

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

Adverb

13th century, in the meaning defined above

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

Dictionary Entries Near foul

Cite this Entry

“Foul.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/foul. Accessed 24 Apr. 2024.

Kids Definition

foul

1 of 4 adjective
1
a
: disgusting in looks, taste, or smell
foul odor
b
: full of or covered with dirt
foul clothes
2
a
: detestable
a foul crime
b
: notably unpleasant or bad
a foul mood
c
: being vulgar or insulting
foul language
3
: being wet and stormy
foul weather
4
a
: very unfair
fair means or foul
b
: breaking a rule in a game or sport
a foul blow in boxing
5
: being outside the foul lines in baseball
a foul grounder
foully adverb
foulness
ˈfau̇(ə)l-nəs
noun

foul

2 of 4 noun
1
: an entanglement or collision in fishing or sailing
2
a
: a breaking of the rules in a game or sport
3

foul

3 of 4 verb
1
: to make or become foul or filthy
foul the air
foul a stream
2
a
: to make a foul in a game or sport
b
: to hit a foul ball
3
: to become or cause to become entangled
foul the lines

foul

4 of 4 adverb
: in a foul manner : so as to be foul

More from Merriam-Webster on foul

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