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

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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.
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Recent Examples on the Web In February, the Snow Moon (or Hunger Moon, which sounds way more ominous). Andrea Wurzburger,, "There's a Full Beaver Moon in November: How To See The Full Moon Tonight," 11 Nov. 2019 But trailing Cathedral at the time, 56-52, the odds of an Attucks comeback seemed ominous at best. Kyle Neddenriep, Indianapolis Star, "Instant classic: Attucks' 2OT City title win over Cathedral a night to remember for all who saw it," 28 Jan. 2020 This week, the group announced plans to spend roughly $500,000 in the coming months on ads — the first of which have hit billboards and websites featuring that ominous, masked figure. Matt Stout,, "Warning light: A long, and likely expensive, ballot fight over the information spit out by your car is beginning," 8 Jan. 2020 And that itself is ominous and should make all of us cast aside any thread of ideology or theology or whatever, just look at that straight in the face. Thomas Meaney, Harper's magazine, "Trumpism After Trump," 20 Jan. 2020 For a country with a history of brutal dictatorship, coups and dodgy elections, the prospect of one-man rule is ominous. The Economist, "Gourdean knot Jovenel Moïse tries to govern Haiti without a parliament," 18 Jan. 2020 In Mississippi, with its bitter history of slavery, segregation and lynchings, the attack on an African American church was especially ominous. Peter Jamison, Washington Post, "Are hate crime hoaxes on the rise along with real hate crimes?," 5 Dec. 2019 Recent statements from leading Republicans senators were therefore particularly ominous. Saul Cornell, The New Republic, "Could America’s Founders Have Imagined This?," 20 Dec. 2019 The timing was ominous for a utility already accused of sparking numerous infernos throughout the state, including last year’s deadly Camp Fire in Butte County. Rachel Swan,, "Bay Area’s wild week: What we learned from fires, outages and evacuations," 3 Nov. 2019

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.

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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

18 Feb 2020

Cite this Entry

“Ominous.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 23 Feb. 2020.

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More Definitions for ominous


How to pronounce ominous (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of ominous

: suggesting that something bad is going to happen in the future


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

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More from Merriam-Webster on ominous

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for ominous

Spanish Central: Translation of ominous

Nglish: Translation of ominous for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of ominous for Arabic Speakers

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