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 Today, given the ethnic and religious conflict in the region, any indicator of a significant Muslim community in Mrauk U in ancient times seems portentous. Joshua Hammer, Smithsonian, "The Hidden City of Myanmar," 21 Nov. 2019 This is a portentous touch, but the poem describes feelings that can arise every winter. Richard Brookhiser, National Review, "Reading Thomas Hardy’s ‘The Darkling Thrush’ at Year’s End," 19 Dec. 2019 That portentous claim launches one last spectacular scene that would make Crichton proud. Ron Charles, Washington Post, "Michael Crichton’s classic thriller ‘The Andromeda Strain’ gets a deadly sequel," 12 Nov. 2019 Apart from some fine Sherlockian flourishes, though, the novel often feels talky and perhaps unavoidably somber and portentous, its action slowed by infodumps about Zionism and prejudice, as well as several saccharine scenes featuring Watson’s wife. Michael Dirda, Washington Post, "Sherlock Holmes can never die. New books about the great sleuth are making sure of it.," 27 Nov. 2019 The atmosphere in the courtroom was solemn and portentous, with lawyers proceeding exactly as if the trial will indeed begin on Monday, should talks collapse. Jan Hoffman, New York Times, "Drug Giants Close In on a $50 Billion Settlement of Opioid Cases," 16 Oct. 2019 The 12-minute Motown opus, rearranged for The Temptations from the original in 1972, has one of the longest intros in pop music history, beginning with a portentous bassline and glacially unfolding as the remaining instruments join in, one by one. Chris Wilson, Time, "How Long Could the Trump Impeachment Process Last? Use Our Interactive Timeline to Find Out," 1 Oct. 2019 Both in print and online, our newsroom has aimed to keep readers abreast of every key development in this harrowing, historic and portentous moment in our community’s life. SFChronicle.com, "How The Chronicle has covered Kincade Fire, PG&E outages on the front page," 28 Oct. 2019 The Republican fracture is more unusual, more disruptive — and perhaps more portentous. Los Angeles Times, "Column: Foreign policy is on the 2020 ballot, right alongside Trump," 20 Oct. 2019

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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Last Updated

27 Jan 2020

Cite this Entry

“Portentous.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/portentous. Accessed 24 Feb. 2020.

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More Definitions for portentous


How to pronounce portentous (audio)

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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