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

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 Our position in Iraq is precarious, with the Iraqi parliament taking a symbolic vote to expel foreign forces. Nr Editors, National Review, "The Week," 9 Jan. 2020 The lives of most Yazidi women, however, are more precarious than before. Güneş Murat Tezcür, The Conversation, "5 years after Islamic State massacre, an Iraqi minority is transformed by trauma," 26 Nov. 2019 On matchday 28, the table was even more precarious, with four sides level on 59 points in the closest title battle the division has ever seen., "Djurgårdens IF Emerge Victorious on Epic Finale to Swedish Allsvenskan Title Race," 3 Nov. 2019 But after three years of faltering support, the US’ position as a world leader in the green economy is precarious. Lucien Georgeson And Mark Maslin, Ars Technica, "US green economy’s growth dwarfs the fossil fuel industry’s," 16 Oct. 2019 The old building withstood the storm, but its position was precarious., "A short documentary exploring climate change on Cape Cod," 26 Sep. 2019 Mrs Mugabe’s position in the aftermath of her husband's death will be precarious. The Economist, "Robert Mugabe leaves a bitter legacy," 7 Sep. 2019 Particularly for nonbinary and trans people, presenting in public at all can be precarious. Jhoni Jackson, Teen Vogue, "Queer Puerto Rican Activists La Sombrilla Cuir Are Creating Change on Social Media," 26 Aug. 2019 To meet its other goals and further its research, Benson said the university is looking to its growing alumni network for stable funding as state university funding and international student enrollment continue to be precarious. María Méndez, Dallas News, "How UT Dallas evolved from a small research center into one of the fastest-growing universities in just 50 years," 18 Aug. 2019

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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Time Traveler for precarious

Time Traveler

The first known use of precarious was in 1646

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Last Updated

13 Jan 2020

Cite this Entry

“Precarious.” The Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., Accessed 20 January 2020.

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More Definitions for precarious


How to pronounce precarious (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of precarious

: not safe, strong, or steady


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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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 to be intimidated or subdued

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