par·​lous ˈpär-ləs How to pronounce parlous (audio)
obsolete : dangerously shrewd or cunning
: full of danger or risk
parlously adverb

Did you know?

Parlous is both a synonym and a derivative of perilous; it came to be as an alteration of perilous in Middle English. (Perilous is derived from the Anglo-French perilleus, which ultimately comes from the Latin word for "danger," perīculum.) Both words are documented in use from at least the 14th century. Seven centuries later, both remain in steady use, often modifying state or times; however, perilous is, by far, the preferred synonym. More than likely, this is from having the familiar peril as a base.

Examples of parlous in a Sentence

The company is in a parlous financial situation. He talked about the parlous state of the country.
Recent Examples on the Web Its parlous finances have forced all but a handful of its greatest generation to leave. Rory Smith, New York Times, 27 Oct. 2023 Neither Lebanon nor, by extension, Hezbollah can afford another major war with Israel, particularly under the current parlous circumstances. Hussein Ibish, The New Republic, 24 Oct. 2023 Sadly, the international community, including the United States under President Donald Trump, has largely been indifferent to the parlous state of democracy in Pakistan and failed to put pressure on the military. Aqil Shah, Foreign Affairs, 22 Dec. 2020 South African President Cyril Ramaphosa will deliver his seventh state-of-the-nation address on Thursday at a parlous juncture in his tenure. S'thembile Cele,, 9 Feb. 2023 If nothing else, the Feb. 6 earthquake laid bare the parlous state of Syria under Assad. Declan Walsh,, 16 Feb. 2023 If nothing else, the Feb. 6 earthquake laid bare the parlous state of Syria under Mr. al-Assad. Declan Walsh, New York Times, 16 Feb. 2023 Why are local governments in this parlous state? Laura He, CNN, 2 Dec. 2022 The pension system is not on the brink of bankruptcy, even if its finances over the medium term look parlous. Roger Cohen,, 20 Mar. 2023 See More

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

Word History


Middle English, variant of perilous perilous (through loss of medial syllable and regular lowering and backing of e)

First Known Use

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of parlous was in the 14th century


Dictionary Entries Near parlous

Cite this Entry

“Parlous.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 8 Dec. 2023.

Kids Definition


par·​lous ˈpär-ləs How to pronounce parlous (audio)
parlously adverb

More from Merriam-Webster on parlous

Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!