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 The Tide entered Saturday’s game against LSU in a precarious situation. John Talty | Jtalty@al.com, al, "Alabama’s playoff resume is bad but Tide still might get in," 10 Nov. 2019 In a precarious situation such as this, an early goal is required to regain a touch of belief and to rally an anxious crowd. SI.com, "Napoli 2-4 Lazio: The 90 Minute Champions League Shootout That Had it All," 6 Nov. 2019 Although tourists are now allowed in, the precarious security situation means the tourism and handicrafts sectors are unlikely to bounce back fast. Naina Bajekal, Time, "India Is Slowly Easing Its Lockdown in Kashmir. But Life Isn't Returning to Normal," 23 Oct. 2019 Immigrant rights advocates have warned that migrants waiting in Mexico are in precarious situations and increasingly vulnerable to cartel attacks. Catherine E. Shoichet, CNN, "Why one area along the US-Mexico border saw drownings triple and water rescues skyrocket more than 1000%," 12 Oct. 2019 For Pete’s sake: South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, arguably the only viable Democratic candidate from the Flyover states, is in a precarious political situation. cleveland, "Economic anxiety is bubbling up in the Midwest: The Flyover," 3 Oct. 2019 Despite the company’s ongoing precarious situation, its executives have indeed paid themselves around $25 million in the last five years, with over $10 million going to Swiss CEO Peter Fankhauser. David Meyer, Fortune, "Thomas Cook Collapse: The Reasons, the Fallout and Even Some Winners," 23 Sep. 2019 First-read-and-go’ quarterbacks, as they’re commonly known, take too many hits by putting themselves in precarious situations. Chris Allen, Sports Illustrated, "A Case for Kyler Murray as an Elite Fantasy Quarterback in 2019," 29 May 2019 Hopes that the nation’s central bank could guide markets to a cool-headed assessment of the U.S. economy now look precarious. Emily Barrett, Los Angeles Times, "Stocks drop as Trump trade war and tantrums undo Fed’s efforts," 23 Aug. 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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Time Traveler for precarious

Time Traveler

The first known use of precarious was in 1646

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Statistics for precarious

Last Updated

17 Nov 2019

Cite this Entry

“Precarious.” The Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/precariously. Accessed 21 November 2019.

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More Definitions for precarious

precarious

adjective
How to pronounce precarious (audio)

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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Comments on precarious

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