om·​i·​nous | \ ˈä-mə-nəs How to pronounce ominous (audio) \

Definition of ominous

: being or exhibiting an omen : portentous especially : foreboding or foreshadowing evil : inauspicious

Other Words from ominous

ominously adverb
ominousness noun

Choose the Right Synonym for ominous

ominous, portentous, fateful mean having a menacing or threatening aspect. ominous implies having a menacing, alarming character foreshadowing evil or disaster. ominous rumblings from the volcano portentous suggests being frighteningly big or impressive but now seldom definitely connotes forewarning of calamity. an eerie and portentous stillness fateful suggests being of momentous or decisive importance. the fateful conference that led to war

The Difference Between Ominous, Portentous, and Fateful

Ominous didn't always mean "foreshadowing evil." If you look closely, you can see the omen in ominous, which gave it the original meaning of "presaging events to come"—whether good or bad. It is ultimately derived from the Latin word omen, which is both an ancestor and a synonym of our omen. Today, however, ominous tends to suggest a menacing or threatening aspect. Its synonyms portentous and fateful are used similarly, but ominous is the most menacing of the three. It implies an alarming character that foreshadows evil or disaster. Portentous suggests being frighteningly big or impressive, but seldom gives a definite forewarning of calamity. Fateful implies that something is of momentous or decisive importance.

Examples of ominous in a Sentence

Not many sets of initials became universally recognizable during the twentieth century, and those that did often had ominous overtones, from SS to KGB. — Geoffrey Wheatcroft, Atlantic, March 2001 While politicians and multinational corporations extol the virtues of NAFTA … the ominous curtain is already up in a six-mile section at the border crossing at Mexicali … — Leslie Marmon Silko, Yellow Woman and a Beauty of the Spirit, 1996 Fighting against sensations that sought to claim him, he moved nervously and the note in his hand rattled with a dry and ominous whisper. — Richard Wright, Rite of Passage, 1994 Arranged in two long and ominous rows, the branding irons dangled from the ceiling in the center of the room, suggesting some sort of fence or jail … — Lewis H. Lapham, Harper's, May 1993 an ominous threat of war He spoke in ominous tones. See More
Recent Examples on the Web With gyms now widely reopen, the home bike maker reported an ominous forecast for the end of its current fiscal year on Thursday, sending shares into a tailspin. Declan Harty, Fortune, 5 Nov. 2021 Our relief at being in our own space was tempered by an ominous feeling of What now? Sophie Gilbert, The Atlantic, 10 Mar. 2021 Despite that lousy offense, the Cavs were only able to trim six points off the Nets’ lead -- an ominous sign. Chris Fedor, cleveland, 12 Apr. 2022 The two-year yield has been hovering at times above the 10-year yield, which is a potentially ominous sign. Alex Veiga,, 4 Apr. 2022 But these dramatic crashes in salmon populations are an ominous sign. Joshua Partlow, Anchorage Daily News, 29 Mar. 2022 In Europe, cases are also on the rise, an ominous sign that yet another surge in infections might be around the corner in the U.S. Los Angeles Times, 19 Mar. 2022 So one day, the 21-year-old recalled, Richaud asked him to skate to a remix of the famous Imperial March, its ominous tone interspersed with a hip-hop rhythm. Tom Schad, USA TODAY, 8 Feb. 2022 Nanny is never overly scary but the ominous tone gets under your skin. Taylor Antrim, Vogue, 4 Feb. 2022 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'ominous.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

First Known Use of ominous

1580, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for ominous

see omen

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Time Traveler for ominous

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The first known use of ominous was in 1580

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Last Updated

23 May 2022

Cite this Entry

“Ominous.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 27 May. 2022.

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More Definitions for ominous


om·​i·​nous | \ ˈä-mə-nəs How to pronounce ominous (audio) \

Kids Definition of ominous

: considered a sign of evil or trouble to come … the clouds there seemed to be growing darker, massing in ominous grey mounds with a yellowish tinge.— Susan Cooper, The Dark Is Rising

Other Words from ominous

ominously adverb

More from Merriam-Webster on ominous

Nglish: Translation of ominous for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of ominous for Arabic Speakers


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