pre·​car·​i·​ous | \ pri-ˈker-ē-əs How to pronounce precarious (audio) \

Definition of precarious

1a : dependent on chance circumstances, unknown conditions, or uncertain developments … forced to earn a precarious living as a door-to-door salesman.— Peter Ackroyd Their wealth was precarious, liable to be seized by the sultan if they fell from favour …— Albert Hourani … the resilience of our still-evolving planet, where life is always precarious but always tenacious.— Robert MacKenzie
b : characterized by a lack of security or stability that threatens with danger His balance looks precarious, and I try to talk him down …— Blake Morrison In spite of his precarious emotional state, he wrote more than two dozen books …— Liesl Schillinger At 82 years old, she was in precarious health and had respiratory problems.— Annabelle Olivier … a downturn in food supply could tip a precarious balance.— Mary Cherry If the condition of the biosphere is even half as precarious as the environmentalists suggest, then the twenty-first century must, of necessity, abandon the theory of value so lovingly displayed in the windows of Bloomingdale's.— Lewis H. Lapham
2 : dependent on uncertain premises : dubious … the student of psychology who cares little for brilliant precarious generalizations …Baltimore Medical Journal and Bulletin
3 archaic : depending on the will or pleasure of another In rank and authority these officers seemed not inferior to the ancient proconsuls; but their station was dependent and precarious.— Edward Gibbon

Choose the Right Synonym for precarious

dangerous, hazardous, precarious, perilous, risky mean bringing or involving the chance of loss or injury. dangerous applies to something that may cause harm or loss unless dealt with carefully. soldiers on a dangerous mission hazardous implies great and continuous risk of harm or failure. claims that smoking is hazardous to your health precarious suggests both insecurity and uncertainty. earned a precarious living by gambling perilous strongly implies the immediacy of danger. perilous mountain roads risky often applies to a known and accepted danger. shied away from risky investments

Did you know?

"This little happiness is so very precarious, that it wholly depends on the will of others." Joseph Addison, in a 1711 issue of Spectator magazine, couldn't have described the oldest sense of precarious more precisely—the original meaning of the word was "depending on the will or pleasure of another." Precarious comes from a Latin word meaning "obtained by entreaty," which itself is from the word for prayer, prex.

Examples of precarious in a Sentence

These states are corrupt and brutal. They are theocracies, or precarious autocracies, or secular totalitarian states: tyrannies all, deniers of freedom, republics of fear, enemies of civility and human flourishing. — Ramesh Ponnuru, National Review, 15 Oct. 2001 Such folks led a precarious existence, their homes routinely destroyed in pursuit of a scorched earth policy whenever Florence came under siege. — R. W. B. Lewis, Dante, 2001 She was the first baby he had ever held; he had thought it would be a precarious experience, shot through with fear of dropping something so precious and fragile, but no, in even the smallest infant there was an adhesive force, a something that actively fit your arms and hands, banishing the fear. — John Updike, The Afterlife, 1994 He earned a precarious livelihood by gambling. The strong wind almost knocked him off of his precarious perch on the edge of the cliff.
Recent Examples on the Web But last month, the 21-year-old mother of two found herself in an even more precarious position: living out of her car. Emily Opilo, Baltimore Sun, 6 May 2022 These stories highlight the precarious position that many small businesses are in when dealing with larger retailers. Catherine Erdly, Forbes, 5 May 2022 All of this has put the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and its leader, Metropolitan Onuphury, in a precarious position, particularly as reports of civilian massacres and other atrocities mount. Washington Post, 24 Apr. 2022 The hospital is in a precarious position because most of its patients are low- or extremely low-income and qualify for federal aid. Rachel Swan, San Francisco Chronicle, 14 Apr. 2022 Some households are in a worse spot financially than pre-pandemic, including, primarily, those who were already in a precarious financial position and those who the federal stimulus did not reach for whatever reason. Alicia Adamczyk, Fortune, 4 Apr. 2022 Costa Rica, meanwhile, comes into the match in a far more precarious position. Los Angeles Times, 30 Mar. 2022 That's already put President Joe Biden in a precarious position following a surge of unaccompanied migrant children last spring and the abrupt arrival of thousands of primarily Haitian migrants last September. Priscilla Alvarez, CNN, 25 Mar. 2022 Fewer than half of Americans who have received primary vaccine doses have taken booster shots, putting the United States in a more precarious position. New York Times, 19 Mar. 2022 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'precarious.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

First Known Use of precarious

1626, in the meaning defined at sense 3

History and Etymology for precarious

Latin precārius "given as a favor, depending on the pleasure or mercy of others, of questionable force or permanence, uncertain" + -ous — more at prayer entry 1

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The first known use of precarious was in 1626

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Last Updated

13 May 2022

Cite this Entry

“Precarious.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 16 May. 2022.

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More Definitions for precarious


pre·​car·​i·​ous | \ pri-ˈker-ē-əs How to pronounce precarious (audio) \

Kids Definition of precarious

: not safe, strong, or steady precarious balance a precarious journey

Other Words from precarious

precariously adverb


pre·​car·​i·​ous | \ pri-ˈkar-ē-əs How to pronounce precarious (audio) \

Legal Definition of precarious

: depending on the will or pleasure of another — see also precarious possession at possession


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