friv·​o·​lous | \ ˈfri-və-ləs How to pronounce frivolous (audio) \

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

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 My social joy, and the social joy of those around me, is not frivolous. New York Times, 8 Oct. 2021 The importance of the role of an active father is not frivolous, according to research. John Duffy, CNN, 29 Sep. 2021 And to them this feeling, however superficial, is not a frivolous thing to pursue. New York Times, 12 Oct. 2021 Members of the Invest in Arizona coalition, such as Stand for Children, have called the suit frivolous, noting the referral drive attempts to keep money in the state budget, not reduce it through a permanent $1 billion tax cut. Mary Jo Pitzl, The Arizona Republic, 29 Sep. 2021 Oil companies have repeatedly called the suits frivolous, and an attack by money-seeking lawyers on an industry vital to Louisiana's economy. Kevin Mcgill, ajc, 5 Aug. 2021 Yet the fact that the plaintiffs’ attorney has repeatedly refused to disclose the results of the analysis of the tuna salad — really, the evidentiary basis of the lawsuit — raises a major question mark that makes the whole thing seem frivolous. Soleil Ho, San Francisco Chronicle, 28 Jan. 2021 To nonbelievers, this magical battle for America might seem frivolous, but the spiritualism is actually evidence of how deadly serious practitioners think this election is. Emma Grey Ellis, Wired, 29 Oct. 2020 First, play is too often understood, dismissed really, as frivolous and childish. Ashoka, Forbes, 6 Oct. 2021

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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Time Traveler for frivolous

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

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Last Updated

29 Nov 2021

Cite this Entry

“Frivolous.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 4 Dec. 2021.

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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 How to pronounce frivolous (audio) \

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 How to pronounce frivolous (audio) \

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.

More from Merriam-Webster on frivolous

Nglish: Translation of frivolous for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of frivolous for Arabic Speakers


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