precarious

adjective
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

Game 4 is Friday (9 p.m. ET, ABC), and the Warriors are in a precarious situation. Jeff Zillgitt, USA TODAY, "Raptors take advantage of shorthanded Warriors for 2-1 series lead," 29 May 2019 Additionally, another new camera system underneath the Discovery Sport allows a 180-degree view of precarious terrain or dangerous curbing. Eric Stafford, Car and Driver, "The 2020 Land Rover Discovery Sport Adds Style and a Hybrid Model," 21 May 2019 For example, light rain that breaks out on your way up a peak could make the trip back pretty precarious, Schimelpfenig explains. Carolyn L. Todd, SELF, "14 Essential Hiking Safety Tips You Should Always Follow," 10 May 2019 Otherwise, our nations may soon be entrenched in a nuclear standoff more precarious, disorienting and economically costly than the Cold War. George P. Shultz, WSJ, "The Threat of Nuclear War Is Still With Us," 10 Apr. 2019 The Italian monument, famed for its precarious tilt, has been improving its posture, straightening nearly 1.5 inches since 2001. Liz Stinson, Curbed, "The Leaning Tower of Pisa has straightened its posture a bit," 27 Nov. 2018 Traditional nomadism has given way to a more precarious form of drifting. Sam Sacks, WSJ, "Fiction: They Fall to Earth, We Know Not Where," 18 Jan. 2019 USA TODAY Sports The Minnesota Wild's chances for a playoff run got more precarious with news that top defenseman Ryan Suter will need to have surgery for a fractured ankle and miss the rest of the season. Mike Brehm, USA TODAY, "Ryan Suter's broken ankle hurts Minnesota Wild's hopes for a playoff run," 2 Apr. 2018 Norwegian Airlines, considered the standard-bearer of discount long-haul airfare, charts a similarly precarious financial path. Sam Blum, Popular Mechanics, "Are the Discount Airlines Doomed?," 29 Mar. 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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Statistics for precarious

Last Updated

16 Jun 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

precarious

adjective

English Language Learners Definition of precarious

: not safe, strong, or steady

precarious

adjective
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

precarious

adjective
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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