ne·​far·​i·​ous ni-ˈfer-ē-əs How to pronounce nefarious (audio)
: flagrantly wicked or impious : evil
nefariously adverb

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What Is the Difference Between vicious, villainous, and nefarious?

Nefarious comes from the Latin adjective nefarius and the Latin noun nefas, which means "crime." Nefas is a combination of ne- ("not") and fas, meaning "right" or "divine law."

Choose the Right Synonym for nefarious

vicious, villainous, iniquitous, nefarious, corrupt, degenerate mean highly reprehensible or offensive in character, nature, or conduct.

vicious may directly oppose virtuous in implying moral depravity, or may connote malignancy, cruelty, or destructive violence.

a vicious gangster

villainous applies to any evil, depraved, or vile conduct or characteristic.

a villainous assault

iniquitous implies absence of all signs of justice or fairness.

an iniquitous system of taxation

nefarious suggests flagrant breaching of time-honored laws and traditions of conduct.

the nefarious rackets of organized crime

corrupt stresses a loss of moral integrity or probity causing betrayal of principle or sworn obligations.

city hall was rife with corrupt politicians

degenerate suggests having sunk to an especially vicious or enervated condition.

a degenerate regime propped up by foreign powers

Examples of nefarious in a Sentence

Moreover, those starry-eyed states inclined to perceive international relations in moral terms frequently underestimate the nefarious machinations of their competitors on the world political stage. Richard Wolin, New Republic, 4 June 2001
… I always give the same response: Just because Frank posed for pictures with every leading capo, underboss and cement contractor of the day doesn't mean that he joined them in their nefarious underworld activities. Oh, occasionally he rode along on a hit or two, but that was just one of those social obligations … Lewis Grossberger, Time, 21 Dec. 1998
Three-tenths of a mile uphill from our mailbox on the road, that bend is so nefarious that neophytes often skidded into a snowbank or wound up fender-deep in mud there. Maxine Kumin, In Deep, 1987
a nefarious scheme to cheat people out of their money the chaste heroines and nefarious villains of old-time melodramas
Recent Examples on the Web Poised to inherit the throne and protect the oceans from mermaids with nefarious intentions, Ruby’s journey is a captivating dive into self-discovery, family legacies, and the power of embracing one’s true self. Travis Bean, Forbes, 23 Feb. 2024 They are prompted after a simple mop-bucket spill leads to the discovery of the station's nefarious secrets. Bryan Alexander, USA TODAY, 19 Feb. 2024 With everything at stake, global intelligence agencies battle against nefarious parties to prevent the virus spreading. Patrick Frater, Variety, 19 Feb. 2024 Last October, the White House issued an executive order that reaffirmed its commitment to regulating A and addressing several issues, including worker displacement, nefarious use cases, and the potential for AI to exacerbate discrimination. Chris Morris, Fortune, 14 Feb. 2024 Extremists are using the authoritarian playbook to weaken our institutions, threaten others with violence and suppress the vote to advance their nefarious aims. Letters To The Editor, The Mercury News, 13 Feb. 2024 Taylor Swift and the Great War with the far right Unfounded right-wing theories have widely alleged that Swift and the NFL are forming a nefarious alliance to hinder Donald Trump’s 2024 election chances with an endorsement for President Biden in November. Anthony De Leon, Los Angeles Times, 8 Feb. 2024 But some on Instagram suggested, without evidence, there was something much more nefarious at play. Laura Paddison, CNN, 4 Feb. 2024 Zachary owns a rug import company that Reacher and his associates believe is covering for a more nefarious operation. Ethan Shanfeld, Variety, 8 Feb. 2024 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'nefarious.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


Latin nefarius, from nefas crime, from ne- not + fas right, divine law; perhaps akin to Greek themis law, tithenai to place — more at do

First Known Use

circa 1609, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of nefarious was circa 1609


Dictionary Entries Near nefarious

Cite this Entry

“Nefarious.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 3 Mar. 2024.

Kids Definition


ne·​far·​i·​ous ni-ˈfar-ē-əs How to pronounce nefarious (audio)
: very wicked : evil
nefariously adverb
nefariousness noun

More from Merriam-Webster on nefarious

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