pre·​ter·​nat·​u·​ral | \ ˌprē-tər-ˈna-chə-rəl How to pronounce preternatural (audio) , -ˈnach-rəl, pre-\

Definition of preternatural

1 : existing outside of nature
2 : exceeding what is natural or regular : extraordinary wits trained to preternatural acuteness by the debates— G. L. Dickinson
3 : inexplicable by ordinary means especially : psychic preternatural phenomena

Keep scrolling for more

Other Words from preternatural

preternaturally \ ˌprē-​tər-​ˈna-​chə-​rə-​lē How to pronounce preternaturally (audio) , -​ˈnach-​rə-​ , -​ˈna-​chər-​ , pre-​ \ adverb
preternaturalness \ ˌprē-​tər-​ˈna-​chə-​rəl-​nəs How to pronounce preternaturalness (audio) , -​ˈnach-​rəl-​ , pre-​ \ noun

Did You Know?

Preternatural derives from the Latin praeter naturam, which means "beyond nature." In the 1200s, Medieval Latin scholars rendered the term as "praeternaturalis," and that form inspired the modern English version. Unusual things are sometimes considered positive and sometimes negative, and throughout its history "preternatural" has been used to refer to both exceptionally good things and unnaturally evil ones. In its earliest documented uses in the 1500s, it tended to emphasize the strange, ominous, or foreboding, but by the 1700s, people were using it more benignly to refer to fascinating supernatural (or even heavenly) phenomena. Nowadays, people even use it to describe the remarkable abilities of exceptional humans.

Examples of preternatural in a Sentence

She has a preternatural ability to charm people. There was a preternatural quiet in the house.

Recent Examples on the Web

Even the standard Boxster makes a compelling case, with preternatural chassis balance and honed optimization of throttle and steering. Car and Driver, "2019 10Best Cars," 28 Nov. 2018 That was Steve’s great preternatural talent, and Ian had no interest. Julia Felsenthal, Vogue, "Matt Tyrnauer’s New Documentary, Studio 54, Takes On the Rise, Fall, and Last Days of Disco," 4 Oct. 2018 With a preternatural sense of pay dirt, Mr. Trump has stuck with the wall ever since. Daniel Henninger, WSJ, "Beyond MAGA Hats," 23 Jan. 2019 Still, Pence, whose aides say has a preternatural calm, shifted and became a salesman for the president’s position and worked to lay the groundwork for possible executive action. Seung-min Kim, The Seattle Times, "Inside Trump’s defiance on the longest shutdown ever," 13 Jan. 2019 In an unnamed country, a trio of homeless children of unspecified nationalities negotiates the vicissitudes of their imperiled circumstance with a mix of innocence, preternatural canniness and an empathy that transcends the limits of language. Lisa Russ Spaar, New York Times, "A Trove of Continental Fiction Explores Loss," 5 Jan. 2018 Just as important were his son’s preternatural marketing skills and always-be-closing competitive hustle. Susanne Craig, The Seattle Times, "Trump engaged in suspect tax schemes as he reaped riches from father," 2 Oct. 2018 But her preternatural intelligence and subtlety as an actress are wasted on a character who never stops shouting her hang-ups from the rooftops. Justin Chang,, "'Boundaries' takes the road all too quirkily traveled," 21 June 2018 Reagan, the preternatural optimist, may have had difficulty fathoming tragedy, but no one knows why Hobbs is shot. Chris Stirewalt, Fox News, "What happened to coal," 21 Aug. 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'preternatural.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

See More

First Known Use of preternatural

1580, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for preternatural

Medieval Latin praeternaturalis, from Latin praeter naturam beyond nature

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about preternatural

Listen to Our Podcast about preternatural

Statistics for preternatural

Last Updated

26 May 2019

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for preternatural

The first known use of preternatural was in 1580

See more words from the same year

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for preternatural



English Language Learners Definition of preternatural

formal : very unusual in a way that does not seem natural

More from Merriam-Webster on preternatural

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with preternatural

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for preternatural

Comments on preternatural

What made you want to look up preternatural? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


to move with exaggerated bouncy motions

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Finance Words Quiz

  • a-piggy-bank
  • The etymology of mortgage is related most closely to which two words?
How Strong Is Your Vocabulary?

Test your vocabulary with our 10-question quiz!


Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!