por·​ten·​tous | \ pȯr-ˈten-təs How to pronounce portentous (audio) \

Definition of portentous

1 : of, relating to, or constituting a portent suspense, portentous foreshadowing, hints of sinister and violent mysteries— Francine Prose
2 : eliciting amazement or wonder : prodigious
3a : being a grave or serious matter portentous decisions
b : self-consciously solemn or important : pompous portentous declamation unsalted by the least trace of humor— W. H. Pritchard
c : ponderously excessive that discipline's overwrought, portentous phrases— R. M. Coles

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Other Words from portentous

portentously adverb
portentousness noun

Choose the Right Synonym for portentous

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

Examples of portentous in a Sentence

an eerie and portentous stillness hung over the camp the night before the battle in 1969 people regarded the first landing on the moon as a truly portentous event
Recent Examples on the Web There were player introductions and portentous music, and the producers laid on the soundtrack with a heavy touch — to supply all the noise that a crowd limited to 1,600 spectators wasn’t making. New York Times, "Was the College Football Season Worth It?," 30 Dec. 2020 Over at Harvey’s, over a dinner of milk and tuna (great makeout food), Morningstar realizes that Harvey has those portentous doodles of the Terrors framed on his walls. Jessica Goldstein, Vulture, "Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Recap: This Is Not My Beautiful House," 1 Jan. 2021 The three books also remind us of less portentous, shared qualities among architects. Alex Beam, WSJ, "Louis Kahn: Listen to the Bricks," 31 Dec. 2020 Meanwhile there’s the catalog, which begins with a handsome if portentous photograph by William Hertrich, Henry Huntington’s head gardener. Los Angeles Times, "Review: Extreme alienation reigns in the Hammer Museum’s (unopened) biennial," 10 Nov. 2020 The snapshot of the country’s economic health in October arrives at a portentous moment. Washington Post, "Economy added 638,000 jobs in October while signaling slower growth," 6 Nov. 2020 The portentous use of music, lighting and extremely shallow focus makes the proceedings feel heavy. Michael Ordoña, Los Angeles Times, "Review: Halloween release not likely to cast a ‘Spell’ on audiences," 28 Oct. 2020 To take him too seriously, much less to take him literally, is to inflate him into a portentous crank who has been divining the seeds of decay in every single aspect of culture since the early ’70s. Sam Sacks, WSJ, "Fiction: Into the Darkness With Don DeLillo," 16 Oct. 2020 There is a portentous photograph of Fred and Judy Wilpon at a Mets gala event around 1961, before the team had even played a game, and Judy was pregnant with Jeff. David Waldstein, New York Times, "With Wilpons Set to Cede Control, the Mets End an Era of What-Ifs," 27 Sep. 2020

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

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

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The first known use of portentous was in the 15th century

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Cite this Entry

“Portentous.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/portentous. Accessed 14 Apr. 2021.

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More Definitions for portentous



English Language Learners Definition of portentous

formal + literary : giving a sign or warning that something usually bad or unpleasant is going to happen
formal + disapproving : trying to seem important, serious, or impressive


por·​ten·​tous | \ pȯr-ˈten-təs How to pronounce portentous (audio) \

Kids Definition of portentous

: giving a sign or warning of something usually bad that is going to happen a portentous dream

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