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 highest-scoring teams are suddenly struggling or in precarious positions. Leaguewide scoring—once comfortably above 24 points per team per game, an all-time high—has cratered to 23.4 points. Andrew Beaton, WSJ, "The NFL Soap Opera Is Ready for Its Twist Ending," 19 Dec. 2018 The reason is because Twitter has fewer resources at its disposal, and also its decision-making is often opaque and incoherent: Twitter Inc. is in a more precarious position than its larger competitors, though. Casey Newton, The Verge, "A conservative Facebook would probably fail — but Facebook should worry about it anyway," 31 Aug. 2018 The buzz: Winless Peru is the only team in the group that has already been eliminated, while Australia is in a precarious position and needs help to go through. Kevin Baxter,, "A look at Tuesday's World Cup schedule," 25 June 2018 Croatia leads Group D after its 2-0 win over Nigeria, and another victory would put Argentina in a precarious position. Ben Nuckols,, "Messi, Argentina under pressure to win against Croatia," 20 June 2018 Besides, Chicago’s finances are extremely precarious. Bradford Betz, Fox News, "Obama Foundation deal with Chicago calls for $10 fee on 99-year lease," 19 Sep. 2018 With Hurricane Florence brewing, the scene outside Pier 17 at the South Street Seaport was precarious this morning. Lauren Valenti, Vogue, "At Michael Kors, Breezy Sun-and-Surf Head Scarves Are a Runway Win," 12 Sep. 2018 And not just any Democrat; a Senate Democrat that Republicans desperately want to unseat in November as part of their effort to keep control of their precarious majority in the Senate. Amber Phillips, Washington Post, "Why a conservative Koch group is spending money for a vulnerable Senate Democrat," 1 June 2018 Two weeks after Ronaldo's spectacular bicycle kick helped Real Madrid eliminate Juventus from the Champions League, a similar overhead effort has left the Bianconeri's march toward a record-extending seventh Serie A title suddenly seem precarious. Andrew Dampf,, "Another bicycle kick haunts Juventus late in game," 19 Apr. 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

13 Jan 2019

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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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