pre·car·i·ous | \pri-ˈker-ē-əs \

Definition of precarious 

1 : depending on the will or pleasure of another

2 : dependent on uncertain premises : dubious precarious generalizations

3a : dependent on chance circumstances, unknown conditions, or uncertain developments

b : characterized by a lack of security or stability that threatens with danger

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Other Words from precarious

precariously adverb
precariousness noun

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." Prayers and entreaties directed at that "other" might or might not help, but what precariousness really hangs on, in the end, is prex, the Latin word for prayer. From prex came the Latin word precarius, meaning "obtained by entreaty," from whence came our own adjective precarious. Anglo-French priere, also from precarius, gave us prayer.

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.
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Recent Examples on the Web

The positivity belies an increasingly precarious financial position. Brian Barrett, WIRED, "Even if MoviePass Dies, It Changed Moviegoing For Good," 20 June 2018 This time around, though, the situation is extra precarious, because the stakes are so much higher. Alex Davies, WIRED, "Tesla Ramps Up Model 3 Production and Predicts Profits This Fall," 2 May 2018 And Taiwan’s status seems precarious, if not yet directly threatened, despite maintaining its hold for more than seven decades on what was the largest above-water feature before China began its island-building spree in 2013. Steven Lee Myers, New York Times, "Island or Rock? Taiwan Defends Its Claim in South China Sea," 20 May 2018 As employment has become more precarious, and as the internet has wormed its way into every walk of life, the need—or at least the strong sensation of a need—to have a valuable online identity has only strengthened. Ian Bogost, The Atlantic, "All Followers Are Fake Followers," 30 Jan. 2018 Still, for every child Colombian authorities take in, many more are out of view living in equally or more precarious conditions. Christine Armario, Fox News, "Kids fleeing Venezuela left hungry, sick and even abandoned," 13 July 2018 What to like: Outside linebacker feels like one of the more precarious position groups, mostly because the Bears appear to be banking on a lot to go right. Colleen Kane,, "Bears relying on several comeback stories from their outside linebackers," 12 July 2018 But its status remains precarious – as does that of the European Union, which depends on Germany's stability to unite the increasingly fractious bloc. Chris Cottrell, The Christian Science Monitor, "Immigration deal saves German government, points to European future," 9 July 2018 After graduating 15 of its 41 players from last season, the ThunderWolves found itself in a precarious position during spring practice with a roster in the low 20s. Wells Dusenbury,, "Oxbridge Academy standout QB Gio Richardson transfers to Palm Beach Central," 11 July 2018

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.

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First Known Use of precarious

1646, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for precarious

Latin precarius obtained by entreaty, uncertain — more at prayer

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Last Updated

6 Oct 2018

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Time Traveler for precarious

The first known use of precarious was in 1646

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More Definitions for precarious



English Language Learners Definition of precarious

: not safe, strong, or steady


pre·car·i·ous | \pri-ˈker-ē-əs \

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 \

Legal Definition of precarious 

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

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Comments on precarious

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


not any or not one

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