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

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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

Yet the product in the ad was more frivolous than functional. Washington Post, "Victoria’s Secret’s Mysterious Turnaround Plan," 18 Sep. 2019 The subtext of the outrage was this: A pre-existing political connotation automatically subsumes a frivolous but harmless one. Amanda Hess, New York Times, "United We Stan," 11 Sep. 2019 The system seeks to grade citizens based on their behavior, for example, punishing some for frivolous spending and rewarding others who follow the rules. Caitlin Hu, CNN, "What Hong Kong's masked protesters fear," 10 Sep. 2019 After all, the sheer prospect of having to defend a lawsuit — even a frivolous one — has the potential of causing folks to censor themselves. Eriq Gardner, The Hollywood Reporter, "Could the Bizarre Legal Fight Over HBO's Michael Jackson Doc Wind Up at the Supreme Court?," 30 Aug. 2019 This isn’t a frivolous extra: users were angry and rated classes poorly when pop songs were replaced with covers, and the company was previously sued for using music from the likes of Lady Gaga and Drake without permission. Mike Murphy, Quartz, "Peloton’s IPO filing is a roundup of every risky tech startup trend," 28 Aug. 2019 These fees, which had grown exponentially in the last few years, created incentives for frivolous reviews unrelated to any potential impact on historic sites. Jon Brodkin, Ars Technica, "Ajit Pai loses another court case as judges overturn 5G deregulation," 9 Aug. 2019 In the same way that frivolous accusations of sexism minimize the gravity of real ones, false arguments for electing them also minimize the very real case for doing so. Katherine Timpf, National Review, "MSNBC Host Hurts Women by Claiming They Have Better Character," 27 Aug. 2019 Daines and other Montana leaders say those groups have abused the legal system by filing frivolous lawsuits to stop logging projects in national forests. Matt Volz, The Denver Post, "Senators to introduce bipartisan wildfire bill," 1 Aug. 2019

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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Dictionary Entries near frivolous


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Statistics for frivolous

Last Updated

20 Sep 2019

Look-up Popularity

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 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.

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Comments on frivolous

What made you want to look up frivolous? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


to fake an opponent out of position

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