oner·​ous | \ ˈä-nə-rəs How to pronounce onerous (audio) , ˈō- How to pronounce onerous (audio) \

Definition of onerous

1 : involving, imposing, or constituting a burden : troublesome an onerous task onerous regulations an onerous mortgage
2 : having legal obligations that outweigh the advantages an onerous contract

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Other Words from onerous

onerously adverb
onerousness noun

Choose the Right Synonym for onerous

onerous, burdensome, oppressive, exacting mean imposing hardship. onerous stresses being laborious and heavy especially because distasteful. the onerous task of cleaning up the mess burdensome suggests causing mental as well as physical strain. burdensome responsibilities oppressive implies extreme harshness or severity in what is imposed. the oppressive tyranny of a police state exacting implies rigor or sternness rather than tyranny or injustice in the demands made or in the one demanding. an exacting employer

What is the Difference Between onerous, burdensome, oppressive?

Onerous, which traces back to the Latin onus, meaning "burden," has several synonyms. Like "onerous," "burdensome," "oppressive," and "exacting" all refer to something which imposes a hardship of some kind. "Onerous" stresses a sense of laboriousness and heaviness, especially because something is distasteful ("the onerous task of cleaning up the mess"). "Burdensome" suggests something which causes mental as well as physical strain ("the burdensome responsibilities of being a supervisor"). "Oppressive" implies extreme harshness or severity in what is imposed ("the oppressive tyranny of a police state"). "Exacting" suggests rigor or sternness rather than tyranny or injustice in the demands made or in the one demanding ("an exacting employer who requires great attention to detail").

Examples of onerous in a Sentence

Then everyone was asked, how fairly did you act?, from "extremely unfairly" (1) to "extremely fairly" (7). Next they watched someone else make the assignments, and judged that person's ethics. Selflessness was a virtual no-show: 87 out of 94 people opted for the easy task and gave the next guy the onerous one. — Sharon Begley, Newsweek, 23 June 2008 The first hitch occurred when the state education department took a full six months after the new law was adopted to issue 12 pages of onerous rules and regulations governing Arkansas charter schools. — Wendy Cole, Time, 10 June 2000 Environmentalism poses stark issues of survival, for humankind and for all those other tribes of creatures over which we have exercised our onerous dominion. — Marilynne Robinson, The Death of Adam, 1998 Rap tested well, but early on the promoters said they wouldn't be booking any gangsta rap, a move at least partly designed to calm security concerns during the onerous process of complying with the strict mass-gathering laws enacted in the wake of the 1969 festival. — John Milward, Rolling Stone, 11 Aug. 1994 The government imposed onerous taxes on imports. had the onerous and stressful job of notifying the families of soldiers killed in action
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Recent Examples on the Web Forcing them to provide free housing is an onerous burden. Steve Chapman Chicago Tribune, Star Tribune, "The federal eviction moratorium is flawed," 25 Jan. 2021 By the 1980s, even the geographically limited package proved fiscally onerous. Aniket Aga, Scientific American, "Farm Protests in India Are Writing the Green Revolution's Obituary," 24 Jan. 2021 But New York’s regional snobberies are particular, and particularly onerous. Michael Schulman, The New Yorker, "Andrew Yang, Fran Lebowitz, and Who Gets to Be a “Real” New Yorker," 21 Jan. 2021 When restrictions become particularly onerous in one setting, people with resources go to another state or jurisdiction. Emily Woodruff,, "Seeking vaccine, older Louisianans hit the road as younger hunt 'leftovers'," 16 Jan. 2021 The requirements to qualify for eviction protection are considered onerous, and several states took their own action. New York Times, "New York Bans Most Evictions as Tenants Struggle to Pay Rent," 28 Dec. 2020 Clearly, such performance would be regarded as that of a star trader, and not that of a politician with other onerous duties. Francis Cong, Fortune, "Sen. David Perdue’s suspicious stock success shows why members of Congress shouldn’t be allowed to trade individual stocks," 17 Dec. 2020 But supporters, including the National Education Association, said Republicans sought onerous restrictions on the aid, ultimately resulting in its exclusion from the final package. Washington Post, "Millions of low-income Americans will receive Internet access rebates under new $7 billion broadband stimulus plan," 22 Dec. 2020 However, travelers are eligible to cancel their flight and receive credit toward a future flight and won't have to pay onerous ticket change fees, even on basic economy tickets. Jayme Deerwester, USA TODAY, "Airlines cancel 500+ flights ahead of winter storm as northeast prepares for heavy snow," 17 Dec. 2020

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'onerous.' 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 onerous

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for onerous

Middle English, from Middle French honereus, from Latin onerosus, from oner-, onus burden; akin to Sanskrit anas cart

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Time Traveler for onerous

Time Traveler

The first known use of onerous was in the 14th century

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Last Updated

12 Feb 2021

Cite this Entry

“Onerous.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 27 Feb. 2021.

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More Definitions for onerous



English Language Learners Definition of onerous

formal : difficult and unpleasant to do or deal with


oner·​ous | \ ˈä-nə-rəs How to pronounce onerous (audio) , ˈō- \

Kids Definition of onerous

: being difficult and unpleasant to do or to deal with “… do you never find your duties onerous or irksome?”— E. B. White, The Trumpet of the Swan


oner·​ous | \ ˈä-nə-rəs, ˈō- How to pronounce onerous (audio) \

Legal Definition of onerous

1 : excessively burdensome or costly
2 : involving a return benefit, compensation, or consideration an onerous donation used chiefly in the civil law of Louisiana — see also onerous contract at contract — compare gratuitous

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