friv·​o·​lous | \ˈfri-və-ləs \

Definition of frivolous 

1a : of little weight or importance She thinks window shopping is a frivolous activity.

b : having no sound basis (as in fact or law) a frivolous lawsuit

2a : lacking in seriousness a frivolous conversation

b : marked by unbecoming levity was criticized for his frivolous behavior in court

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Other Words from frivolous

frivolously adverb
frivolousness noun

A Serious Discussion About the Meaning of Frivolous

The word frivolous is applied to things that don't deserve serious attention—though in some cases a thing described as "frivolous" is serious enough to be a legal matter.

In its most basic, and oldest, uses, frivolous simply describes things of little importance. You can refer to anything you don't find worthwhile—from silly products to outrageous forms of entertainment to goofy pursuits—as "frivolous." Something that in a more technical sense lacks seriousness can also be described with the word; a frivolous essay or book isn't dealing with important topics or ideas. In applying the word frivolous to something, you're saying it doesn't deserve serious attention.

The word frivolous gets more serious when it's applied, as it often is, to legal matters. If a lawsuit is said to be frivolous, it cannot be successfully argued (because, for example, a successful argument would require that a widely rejected legal theory be accepted) or that laws—or the facts—don't support it.

Examples of frivolous in a Sentence

She knew that people might think her frivolous, Kitty said, to talk to some saint when she had a cooking disaster, but that was what she really believed the saints were there for. — Alice Munro, New Yorker, 8 Oct. 2001 As the Explorer quickly became the most popular SUV of all time … a number of lawsuits concerning the Firestone tires were filed, the first in 1992. But Ford and Firestone, like most companies in today's … society, tend to assume that the bulk of legal actions are frivolous. — Daniel Eisenberg, Time, 11 Sept. 2000 There is no frivolous decoration, no canned music, nothing but the essentials—well-worn cutlery and table linen, unpretentious glasses. — Peter Mayle, GQ, May 1998 She thinks window shopping is a frivolous activity. judges are getting sick of people bringing frivolous lawsuits
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Recent Examples on the Web

His charming observational humor is still the engine, but there’s nothing frivolous about it. Cnt Editors, Condé Nast Traveler, "Our Favorite Summer Beach Reads," 5 June 2018 In response, expect UConn to attempt to portray Ollie’s arguments as frivolous, speculative and distracting. Michael Mccann,, "Breaking Down Kevin Ollie's Case Against UConn and the University's Likely Defenses," 29 June 2018 If the arbitrator finds the arbitration to be non-frivolous, the Union-Tribune will pay the fees invoiced by JAMS, including filing fees and arbitrator and hearing expenses., "San Diego Union-Tribune Terms of Service," 25 June 2018 So does Lady Milford, who, through no fault of Ms. Rappoport, reads as frivolous. Laura Collins-hughes, New York Times, "Review: Pulled Apart by ‘Love and Intrigue’," 8 June 2018 While these examples may seem frivolous, meritocracy fatigue is anything but. Heather Souvaine Horn, The New Republic, "Donald Trump, Meghan Markle, and America’s enduring obsession with the British royals," 12 July 2018 In its forthcoming answer to the players’ complaint, expect the NCAA to insist that each of the players’ legal claims is frivolous. Michael Mccann,, "Should the NCAA Be Worried About the Lawsuit It's Facing From Former Louisville Players?," 12 July 2018 People who have seen the bombs, the conflict, people being killed – a lot of other things seem very frivolous to them. Chuck Dauphin, Billboard, "Charlie Daniels Gives $100,000 to Veterans, Calls American Troops 'The Best Men and Women We Got'," 4 July 2018 For example, his 2006 lawsuit against Fantagraphics, a vital independent publisher specializing in graphic novels, seems to have been frivolous and motivated by personal malice. Jeet Heer, The New Republic, "Harlan Ellison’s Death Raises a #MeToo Quandary," 2 July 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'frivolous.' 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 frivolous

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

History and Etymology for frivolous

Middle English, from Latin frivolus

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Last Updated

15 Nov 2018

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Time Traveler for frivolous

The first known use of frivolous was in the 15th century

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More Definitions for frivolous



English Language Learners Definition of frivolous

: not important : not deserving serious attention

: silly and not serious


friv·​o·​lous | \ˈfri-və-ləs \

Kids Definition of frivolous

1 : of little importance : trivial a frivolous matter

2 : lacking in seriousness a frivolous boyfriend


friv·​o·​lous | \ˈfri-və-ləs \

Legal Definition of frivolous 

: lacking in any arguable basis or merit in either law or fact

Note: In an attempt to discourage frivolous lawsuits, Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure requires the signature of an attorney or party on any pleading, motion, or other paper to certify that to the signer's knowledge it is grounded in fact and warranted by law or otherwise brought in good faith and not for an improper purpose. A court is authorized to impose sanctions for violation of the rule.

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