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. See More
Recent Examples on the Web
Adjective
The biggest reason for the Cougars’ high foul count? Shreyas Laddha, Kansas City Star, 28 Feb. 2024 Scotty Brennan stepped to the foul stripe with 13 seconds left in a tie game and knocked down a pair to give Los Gatos a two-point lead. Glenn Reeves, The Mercury News, 25 Feb. 2024 No graffiti, there's no filth, there are no foul smells ... or people waiting to push you on the train tracks and kill you. ... Scott Simon, NPR, 23 Feb. 2024 The previous day, a foul pop down the first-base line with two outs in the ninth inning was triangulated but not caught by three Razorbacks -- when a secured catch would have sealed the national title for Arkansas. Tom Murphy, arkansasonline.com, 23 Feb. 2024 The investigation into James began in January with complaints from neighbors about foul smells. Emily Davies, Washington Post, 15 Feb. 2024 According to his arrest warrant, eight Coral Springs officers, Reid and another employee on Oct. 21 went to an apartment at Citation Way Condominiums, 9777 Westview Dr., after a 911 caller noticed a foul odor coming from inside the home. Omar Rodríguez Ortiz, Miami Herald, 31 Jan. 2024 Hunter Dickinson, who played 30 minutes because of foul problems, had 10 points and six rebounds. Gary Bedore, Kansas City Star, 23 Jan. 2024 Davis was ejected, but Garcia missed two free throws resulting from the Flagrant 2 foul call, keeping Arkansas' lead at 70-60 After a Garcia layup, Taylor made 1 of 2 free throws to pull the Aggies within 70-63 with 4:10 left. Bob Holt, arkansasonline.com, 17 Jan. 2024
Noun
Martinez says that’s about the extent of the political questions in the hiring process — and if someone decides the atmosphere is not for them, no harm, no foul. Miles Klee, Rolling Stone, 17 Feb. 2024 But the barrage began again: transition buckets, drives for layups, another logo three (and a foul). Louisa Thomas, The New Yorker, 17 Feb. 2024 Golden State could flash back to Nikola Jokic’s prayer 3 that banked in with 0.7 seconds left, or Chet Holmgren’s buzzer-beating 3 in an OT loss and, days later, his trio of game-winning free throws made off a Draymond Green faux-pas foul. Shayna Rubin, The Mercury News, 11 Feb. 2024 The day also included a flagrant foul that raised the tension between the two teams. Anthony Chiang, Miami Herald, 11 Feb. 2024 Clifford said Miller initiated the offense well when called to do so, particularly after Ish Smith and Nick Smith picked up three first-half fouls. Alex Zietlow, Charlotte Observer, 5 Feb. 2024 When a referee called a foul more than halfway through a college basketball game Saturday, a group of shirtless men walked to the bottom of the bleachers and stood behind the hoop. Kyle Melnick, Washington Post, 6 Feb. 2024 As the shot clock ticked to about two seconds, Furphy committed a foul after playing excellent defense for nearly the entire possession. Shreyas Laddha, Kansas City Star, 6 Feb. 2024 Neither of those conditions applies here, so no foul. David Meyer, Fortune, 5 Feb. 2024
Verb
But Milicic stepped in front of Ballard and and deflected the potential dunk, fouling Ballard and sending him to the free-throw line. Hunter Bailey, Charlotte Observer, 18 Feb. 2024 Suns guard Grayson Allen was fouled by Fox to stop the clock with 18.1 seconds left. Chris Biderman, Sacramento Bee, 14 Feb. 2024 This bill would enable individuals to sue to stop the pollution that fouls our local waterways with sewage, trash, industrial waste, toxic chemicals and much more. Reader Commentary, Baltimore Sun, 13 Feb. 2024 The Wolves immediately had to foul and Clayton Valley guard Chase Robertson made two free throws to essentially ice the game. Nathan Canilao, The Mercury News, 11 Feb. 2024 After Towns missed a go-ahead look from well beyond the arc in the final five seconds of regulation, Rudy Gobert appeared to be trying to foul Caruso in a tie game, only to be bailed out by a Bulls timeout. Jace Frederick, Twin Cities, 7 Feb. 2024 Down one, Charlotte fouled Selton Miguel, who made his 12th and 13th free throws of the game with 12.4 seconds left. Langston Wertz Jr., Charlotte Observer, 7 Feb. 2024 Limit fouls: The Cowboys are great at playing defense without fouling, with an opposition free-throw rate of (28.7%), ranking No. 71 overall. Shreyas Laddha, Kansas City Star, 30 Jan. 2024 Mark blocked a three-point attempt by Taylor, who then fouled him. Bob Holt, arkansasonline.com, 17 Jan. 2024
Adverb
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 Yet even with both starters firing strikes — not a walk between them — they were gone after six innings, the hitters lashing foul after foul and running up their pitch counts. Tyler Kepner, New York Times, 15 June 2023 See More

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 4 Mar. 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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