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

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

Did you know?

At the heart of portentous is portent, a word for an omen or sign, which comes to us from the Latin noun portentum of the same meaning. And indeed, the first uses of portentous did refer to omens. The second sense of portentous, describing that which is extremely impressive, developed in the 16th century. A third definition—"grave, solemn, significant"—was then added to the second edition of Webster's New International Dictionary in 1934. The word's connotations, however, have since moved into less estimable territory. It now frequently describes both the pompous and the excessive.

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 Recent public declarations from Garland, whose spokespeople did not respond to multiple requests for interviews with him or his top aides, regarding where the investigation is headed have been portentous, but also ambiguous. Mark Hosenball, The New Republic, 13 June 2022 Occasionally, a voice-over will intone portentous, poetic, and obscure observations. Peter Keough, BostonGlobe.com, 26 May 2022 One episode, complete with portentous flashbacks, is partly dedicated to her difficult relationship with her fraudster father, the traumatic loss of her brother to cancer, and her fears of abandonment. The New Yorker, 28 Mar. 2022 The president will sign the Ukraine Democracy Defense Lend-Lease Act — which speeds up the process of sending aid to Ukraine — on Monday, the anniversary of Nazi Germany’s defeat, and a day of portentous significance in Russia. Washington Post, 7 May 2022 There are mysteries that are obvious or boring, so many portentous clues about characters' futures. Darren Franich, EW.com, 11 May 2022 It was first published in 1966, the year of my birth, which struck me as terribly portentous. Design Art B., Longreads, 7 Apr. 2022 By all means, fully embrace Christopher Nolan's triumvirate of lengthy, portentous treatises from the aughts, starring Christian Bale. Piers Marchant, Arkansas Online, 4 Mar. 2022 By Michael Bailey, Globe Staff ROCKPORT — First light brought ferocious winds, horizontal snow, and a portentous high tide. BostonGlobe.com, 29 Jan. 2022 See More

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.

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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porteous roll

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Last Updated

20 Jun 2022

Cite this Entry

“Portentous.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/portentous. Accessed 30 Jun. 2022.

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More Definitions for portentous


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

More from Merriam-Webster on portentous

Nglish: Translation of portentous for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of portentous for Arabic Speakers


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