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

Indeed, their precarious position puts star man Gonzalo Higuain under far greater scrutiny after a night four years ago the Juventus striker will want to forget., "World Cup Countdown: Gonzalo Higuain Must Deliver For Argentina After 2014 Final Flop," 14 June 2018 As a result, some of the poorest residents are often living in precarious places without public sewer, drainage, solid-waste, and other infrastructure systems. Annette M. Kim, The Atlantic, "Satellite Images Can Harm the Poorest Citizens," 5 June 2018 Among the most stifling is a 1-3-1 zone with Scott at the top, and that can be deployed in either three-quarter or half-court situations, slowly squeezing offenses into precarious places. Aaron Carter,, "Donta Scott, Imhotep prepare for postponed PIAA final," 21 Mar. 2018 At the time, the Democratic party’s fundamental political position looked more precarious — and Pelosi successfully held her party together against chipping away at one of the greatest party achievements in American history. Matthew Yglesias, Vox, "The time Nancy Pelosi saved Social Security," 21 Nov. 2018 Things get much more complicated for Erik Karlsson, who is in much more precarious situation in Ottawa and due a very big raise from his $6.5 million AAV on his current seven-year deal. Michael Blinn,, "Five NHL Storylines to Watch This Summer," 26 June 2018 The plan, launched as a dip in oil prices made Saudi Arabia's economic future look precarious, calls for Saudi Arabia to diversify its economy away from energy and cut the economic flab accumulated after living for decades on a diet of petrodollars. Adam Taylor, Washington Post, "Who is behind the wheel in a changing Saudi Arabia?," 22 June 2018 The effects of drought — from a significant decrease in available feed to fewer ovulating cows — make everything more financially precarious. Michael Berry, San Francisco Chronicle, "‘The Last Cowboys: A Pioneer Family in the New West,’ by John Branch," 17 May 2018 Things can get even more precarious when your emotional affair partner starts learning things about you that your romantic partner doesn't know. Anthea Levi,, "Are You Close Friends—or Are You Having an Emotional Affair? Here’s How to Tell," 16 May 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

15 Dec 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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More from Merriam-Webster on precarious

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with precarious

Spanish Central: Translation of precarious

Nglish: Translation of precarious for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of precarious for Arabic Speakers

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).


a nest or breeding place

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