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

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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

Example Sentences

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
There are three strikes but seven balls, and foul balls aren’t strikes; just no-pitches. John Shea, San Francisco Chronicle, 18 Sep. 2022 Rules include a two-hour time limit, no stepping out of the batter's box, no bunting, no walks, and foul balls caught by fans are outs. Nathan Dominitz, USA TODAY, 26 Aug. 2022 That stench of old seafood or the fetid smell of rotting meat are foul, to be sure. Rita Pelczar, Better Homes & Gardens, 21 Aug. 2022 Only 33 of Kilian’s 66 pitches were strikes, including 14 foul balls and five balls in play that either scored a run or were not an out. Meghan Montemurro, Chicago Tribune, 21 June 2022 Based on the comedian Sarah Silverman’s memoir of the same name, the show focuses on the plight of a 10-year-old girl, named not coincidentally Sarah Silverman ( Zoe Glick ), whose bladder is as leaky as her mouth is foul. Charles Isherwood, WSJ, 9 June 2022 Nine pitches and six foul balls later, Moustakas was headed to first after an 11-pitch RBI walk that tied the game and kept the bases loaded behind him for Albert Almora Jr., who promptly pounced on a grand slam to give the Reds a 7-3 lead. Adam Baum, The Enquirer, 5 June 2022 But after a short discussion, the umpire decided the ball was foul. oregonlive, 31 May 2022 As such, limiting foul trouble and getting the post trio on the floor together as much as possible will be key throughout the playoffs. Lila Bromberg, Hartford Courant, 15 Aug. 2022
Noun
Just before the end of the half, Darnell King was shown his second caution of the match for a foul on Michee Ngalina after Colorado played a ball over the top of Rising’s back line. Partner Content, The Arizona Republic, 4 Sep. 2022 Grant Williams was called for a foul on Gary Payton II, who tripped over his own two feet on a drive. Globe Staff, BostonGlobe.com, 14 June 2022 Pritchard was called for a foul with 6:14 left in the quarter, and the play was not reviewed. Jeff Zillgitt, USA TODAY, 23 May 2022 Green originally was called for a foul on Brandon Clarke with 1:18 left in the second quarter. Mark Heim | Mheim@al.com, al, 1 May 2022 Dwight Powell got called for a foul against Gobert, who was trying to convert a lob pass into a basket midway through the third quarter. oregonlive, 18 Apr. 2022 The Panthers took a charge but then turned the ball over and were called for a foul with 3.2 seconds left. Lori Riley, courant.com, 14 Mar. 2022 Boeheim was not called for a foul on the play, which happened after Syracuse made a basket, but the ACC does a postgame review of all its games. San Francisco Chronicle, 9 Mar. 2022 The referee who whistled SDSU‘s Nathan Mensah for a foul with 1.7 seconds left and gave Boise State’s Abu Kigab what would be the game-winning free throws wasn’t originally supposed to work the game. Mark Zeigler, San Diego Union-Tribune, 23 Feb. 2022
Verb
The Cats got away with it by living on the free throw line against ASU, but UCLA isn’t going to foul enough to matter. Jeremy Cluff, The Arizona Republic, 3 Feb. 2022 Brooks sat out Game 3 as a penalty by the league for his Flagrant 2 foul that injured Gary Payton II in Game 2, when Brooks hit the Golden State guard over the head on a driving layup attempt and Payton fell hard and broke his left elbow. oregonlive, 9 May 2022 Trout mitigated that weakness the following season, learning to lay off, foul off or square up more high fastballs. Mike Digiovanna, Los Angeles Times, 13 July 2022 Then Boston had to foul and fouled Arlington’s Pat Connaughton — a free throw machine. Globe Staff, BostonGlobe.com, 11 May 2022 That pulled Benet within 44-39, but the Redwings were out of timeouts and had to foul. Matt Le Cren, chicagotribune.com, 3 Mar. 2022 Two minutes later, Perry was up by eight and in full control after getting to the line as Hamilton had to foul to stop the clock as the Pumas played keep away. Richard Obert, The Arizona Republic, 2 Mar. 2022 The same batter facing a hard-throwing right-handed hurler might foul off a different number of pitches vs. a lefty who throws off speed and junk. Marc Bona, cleveland, 10 May 2022 This from Bill James, via the LATimes: Today, a batter can foul off an infinite number of pitches with two strikes, with no penalty. Paul Daugherty, The Enquirer, 8 Mar. 2022
Adverb
Yes, that noisy, foul-smelling, gasoline-guzzling greenhouse-gas-spewing machine. Russ Mitchell, Los Angeles Times, 22 Sep. 2022 It should be noted, however, that after Marchant, Finchem, and the other three members of the coalition won their primaries, none cried foul, claimed that the election was rigged, or contested their own victory. Sue Halpern, The New Yorker, 20 Sep. 2022 Other parents recently cried foul at confusing guidance from the school system on masking. Fox News, 19 Sep. 2022 Instead, major chains, such as AMC, cried foul, threatening legal action. Brent Lang, Variety, 14 Sep. 2022 Ammonia is known by many as a foul-smelling, toxic chemical used in agriculture and cleaning products. Nils Rokke, Forbes, 5 Oct. 2021 Life changed for the well-to-do residents of Rio Vista in December 2019 when a river of foul-smelling sludge ran through their pristine yards and streets. Susannah Bryan, sun-sentinel.com, 5 Sep. 2021 Producing stool that floats or that is foul-smelling is another possible symptom of celiac disease, according to the American College of Gastroenterology. Jessica Migala, Health.com, 2 June 2021 That’s just before the sugarcane burning season, when his home is sometimes coated in dust and foul-smelling smoke from the fields. al, 6 Sep. 2022 See More

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.

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 1 Oct. 2022.

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Kids Definition

foul 1 of 3

adjective

fouler; foulest
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.

foul

2 of 3

noun

1
: a ball in baseball that is batted outside the foul lines
2
: an act of breaking the rules in a game or sport

foul

3 of 3

verb

fouled; fouling
1
: to make or become foul or filthy
foul the air
foul a stream
2
: to make a foul in a game

More from Merriam-Webster on foul

Last Updated: 27 Sep 2022

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