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

Parts of the bluffs are made of robust mudstone, but other sections are precarious, such as those filled with loose materials when the railroad was first constructed. Joshua Emerson Smith, San Diego Union-Tribune, "Senate leader Atkins secures funding to stabilize crumbling Del Mar cliffs," 14 June 2019 Needing to win the race to take home the NCAA championship (any other finish meant Georgia would win), USC found itself in a precarious spot. Andrew Joseph, For The Win, "USC track's epic 4x400 championship comeback had Kobe Bryant impressed," 10 June 2018 Coach Tyronn Lue opted to go with a small starting lineup, featuring Love at center and Korver on the court, with the hope of putting Valanciunas in the precarious spot of having to chase Love out to the perimeter. Joe Vardon, cleveland.com, "Cavaliers have NBA's eyes wide open after 113-112 OT win over Raptors in Game 1," 2 May 2018 The filing specifically cites the precarious conditions pregnant women, families with children, LGBT individuals and members of indigenous communities face in Mexico. Camilo Montoya-galvez, CBS News, "Asylum officers ask court to block Trump's "Remain in Mexico" policy in surprising filing," 27 June 2019 The dispute put both Apple and Intel in a precarious position. Timothy B. Lee, Ars Technica, "How Qualcomm shook down the cell phone industry for almost 20 years," 30 May 2019 Selling to both sides in a time of war can be a precarious position. Dan Gallagher, WSJ, "Chip Makers Get Caught in Huawei Crossfire," 16 May 2019 Caterina's husband was in a precarious position: Many factions seeking to seize his lands after his uncle's death. National Geographic, "This Renaissance warrior woman defied powerful popes to defend her lands," 15 Mar. 2019 Most are Filipino and Indian, and can face precarious labor conditions, which human rights groups regularly denounce. Aya Batrawy, The Seattle Times, "Pope caps visit to Arabian Peninsula with historic Mass," 5 Feb. 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

14 Jul 2019

Look-up Popularity

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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Comments on precarious

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