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

These days, a delay of minutes can feel eternal and portentous. Emily Bobrow, WSJ, "‘Delayed Response’ Review: A Better Way to Wait," 4 Dec. 2018 The city-building overlooks the Hudson River, which today glimmers silver under a portentous sky. Leslie Kendall Dye, Longreads, "City on a Hill," 23 June 2018 The portentous tone is exacerbated by Will Epstein’s soundscore: an assemblage of surf and ambient noise that could easily be sold as a sleep aid. Brian Seibert, New York Times, "Review: At Met Breuer, Dancers Try to Be Like Life, Too," 21 May 2018 The trailer is peppered with a series of portentous images: A man burning a handful of papers. Travis M. Andrews, chicagotribune.com, "'13 Reasons Why' Season 2 trailer drops: Here's what we know about where the series goes," 9 May 2018 Native peoples often appear as portentous figures, intended to signal to viewers that the (usually Western) protagonists have entered a realm where civilization cannot reach. Asher Elbein, The Atlantic, "The Terror Is More Than a Chilling Monster Show," 1 May 2018 All of its portentous conversations between hosts and humans about android consciousness exist somewhere in the space between an a-ha moment and an eye roll—without fully committing to either. Sonia Saraiya, HWD, "Westworld Season 2 Review: A Dramatic Improvement," 20 Apr. 2018 But there was still something portentous about a large whale stranding. National Geographic, "This Man Has Helped Give 460 Dead Whales a Second Life—As Art," 9 Apr. 2018 Gemini opens with an upside-down image of palm trees, silhouetted against the L.A. night sky and hanging from the top of the frame like portentous, spindly bats. David Sims, The Atlantic, "Gemini Is a Low-Key L.A. Murder Mystery," 30 Mar. 2018

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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porteous roll



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Time Traveler for portentous

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

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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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Comments on portentous

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


to move with exaggerated bouncy motions

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