pre·​car·​i·​ous pri-ˈker-ē-əs How to pronounce precarious (audio)
: dependent on chance circumstances, unknown conditions, or uncertain developments
… forced to earn a precarious living as a door-to-door salesman.Peter Ackroyd
Their wealth was precarious, liable to be seized by the sultan if they fell from favour …Albert Hourani
… the resilience of our still-evolving planet, where life is always precarious but always tenacious.Robert MacKenzie
: characterized by a lack of security or stability that threatens with danger
His balance looks precarious, and I try to talk him down …Blake Morrison
In spite of his precarious emotional state, he wrote more than two dozen books …Liesl Schillinger
At 82 years old, she was in precarious health and had respiratory problems.Annabelle Olivier
… a downturn in food supply could tip a precarious balance.Mary Cherry
If the condition of the biosphere is even half as precarious as the environmentalists suggest, then the twenty-first century must, of necessity, abandon the theory of value so lovingly displayed in the windows of Bloomingdale's.Lewis H. Lapham
: dependent on uncertain premises : dubious
… the student of psychology who cares little for brilliant precarious generalizations …Baltimore Medical Journal and Bulletin
archaic : depending on the will or pleasure of another
In rank and authority these officers seemed not inferior to the ancient proconsuls; but their station was dependent and precarious.Edward Gibbon

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." Precarious comes from a Latin word meaning "obtained by entreaty," which itself is from the word for prayer, prex.

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

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.
Recent Examples on the Web When specifically considering cybersecurity, the risk landscape in which SMBs operate is an even more precarious environment than ever. Jamie Akhtar, Forbes, 30 Nov. 2023 Israeli forces have indicated the next stage of their military campaign could focus on southern Gaza, which reveals a precarious situation given Israel's military ordered the evacuation of more than a million Palestinians from northern Gaza to the south. Mike Brest, Washington Examiner, 29 Nov. 2023 The exchange of hostages enabled by a precarious pause in fighting between Hamas and Israel has brought overwhelming relief to some of the families of migrant workers from Southeast Asia who were abducted during the Hamas attack. Rebecca Tan, Washington Post, 27 Nov. 2023 Given the precarious situation of many consumers, retailers know that shoppers are demanding major discounts — and will hold out for the best deals. Carly Olson, Los Angeles Times, 24 Nov. 2023 Advocates said thousands more were dealing with precarious housing and that LGBTQ youth were especially vulnerable. Blake Nelson, San Diego Union-Tribune, 22 Nov. 2023 Many experts are also concerned about the fate of precious and precarious architectural gems across the mountains. Aida Alami, New York Times, 19 Nov. 2023 Instead, the industry by and large relies on undocumented immigrant workers whose ability to stay permanently in this country — and, by that logic, stay permanently on a job — is precarious. Melissa Sanchez, ProPublica, 13 Nov. 2023 Being a young artist, even in a space where your culture is being honoured and recognised as important, is a precarious affair, particularly for communities of colour. Nicole Froio,, 22 Oct. 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'precarious.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


Latin precārius "given as a favor, depending on the pleasure or mercy of others, of questionable force or permanence, uncertain" + -ous — more at prayer entry 1

First Known Use

1626, in the meaning defined at sense 3

Time Traveler
The first known use of precarious was in 1626


Dictionary Entries Near precarious

Cite this Entry

“Precarious.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 3 Dec. 2023.

Kids Definition


pre·​car·​i·​ous pri-ˈkar-ē-əs How to pronounce precarious (audio)
: depending on unknown conditions or chance events
: dangerously lacking in security or steadiness
precarious health
precariously adverb
precariousness noun

Legal Definition


pre·​car·​i·​ous pri-ˈkar-ē-əs How to pronounce precarious (audio)
: depending on the will or pleasure of another see also precarious possession at possession
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