pain·​ful | \ ˈpān-fəl How to pronounce painful (audio) \
painfuller\ ˈpān-​fə-​lər How to pronounce painfuller (audio) \; painfullest

Definition of painful

1a : feeling or giving pain a painful injury
2 : requiring effort or exertion a long painful trip
3 archaic : careful, diligent

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Other Words from painful

painfully \ ˈpān-​f(ə-​)lē How to pronounce painfully (audio) \ adverb
painfulness \ ˈpān-​fəl-​nəs How to pronounce painfulness (audio) \ noun

Synonyms & Antonyms for painful


aching, achy, afflictive, hurting, nasty, sore


indolent, painless

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Examples of painful in a Sentence

I got a painful sunburn. We can't ignore our country's painful history of slavery. His questions brought up a lot of painful memories. It was painful to watch.
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Recent Examples on the Web

Anwar HusseinGetty Images Princess Diana and Prince Charles went through a painful, public divorce, all while their two children were very young. Katherine J. Igoe, Marie Claire, "How Princess Diana Told William About Prince Charles' Affair with Camilla Parker Bowles," 30 Mar. 2019 That may condemn crucial corporations to insolvency, and perhaps force the government to seek a rescue from the International Monetary Fund, a course that would surely entail painful spending cuts. New York Times, "Turkey’s Economy Is So Hot That It May Face a Meltdown," 10 July 2018 While the individual financial ruin is painful enough, this creeping crisis will impact entire neighborhoods. Patrick Sisson, Curbed, "Coming crisis of coastal flooding: $1 trillion of real estate at risk by 2100," 18 June 2018 Foam rollers are meant to release tension in soft tissue, so rolling over bony spots is unnecessary and will probably just be painful, says Jiang. Isadora Baum, SELF, "7 Foam Rolling Mistakes You Should Avoid," 16 Mar. 2019 Lupita Nyong’o stands ever elegant in a yoga pose, her hands clasped in prayer. Sifting through my own magazines is painful. Liana Satenstein, Vogue, "Sorry Marie Kondo—I Love Mess!," 12 Feb. 2019 Precisely because cash gives us a feeling of security, handing it over is painful in a way that swiping a card or waving a phone is not. Town & Country, "Is This the End of Cash?," 28 Jan. 2019 People often describe these sensations as unusual pressure, soreness, or tightness though, rather than a painful, chest-clutching moment like the one mentioned above. Amy Capetta, Redbook, "6 Subtle Signs of a Heart Attack in Women," 25 July 2018 The Marlins’ right-hander allowed hits to the first three Padres hitters, but the second one was the most painful. Matthew Defranks,, "Marlins come back, but fall late in loss to Padres," 9 June 2018

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

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

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Statistics for painful

Last Updated

7 May 2019

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

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English Language Learners Definition of painful

: causing pain to your body
: causing emotional pain


pain·​ful | \ ˈpān-fəl How to pronounce painful (audio) \
painfuller\ -​fə-​lər How to pronounce painfuller (audio) \; painfullest

Medical Definition of painful

: feeling or giving pain

Other Words from painful

painfully \ -​f(ə-​)lē How to pronounce painfully (audio) \ adverb

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More from Merriam-Webster on painful

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with painful

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for painful

Spanish Central: Translation of painful

Nglish: Translation of painful for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of painful for Arabic Speakers

Comments on painful

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


a sum of money that is sent as a payment

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