adjective pre·car·i·ous \ pri-ˈker-ē-əs \
|Updated on: 11 Aug 2018

Definition of precarious

1 : depending on the will or pleasure of another
2 : dependent on uncertain premises : dubious
  • precarious generalizations
3 a : 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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Examples of precarious in a Sentence

  1. 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 PonnuruNational Review15 Oct. 2001
  2. 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. LewisDante2001
  3. 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 UpdikeThe Afterlife1994
  4. He earned a precarious livelihood by gambling.

  5. The strong wind almost knocked him off of his precarious perch on the edge of the cliff.

Recent Examples of precarious from the Web

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.

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.

Origin and Etymology of precarious

Latin precarius obtained by entreaty, uncertain — more at prayer

Synonym Discussion of 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

PRECARIOUS Defined for English Language Learners


Definition of precarious for English Language Learners

  • : not safe, strong, or steady

PRECARIOUS Defined for Kids


adjective pre·car·i·ous \ pri-ˈker-ē-əs \

Definition of precarious for Students

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



Law Dictionary


adjective 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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