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

Other Words from preternatural

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

Did you know?

Preternatural derives from the Latin phrase praeter naturam, which means "beyond nature." 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 regularly 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 Rees’s book suggests that this early miracle gave the singer preternatural confidence. Amanda Petrusich, The New Yorker, 17 Jan. 2022 What really changed things in the minds of coaches was Thompkins’ preternatural ability to go after the ball in the air. The Salt Lake Tribune, 24 Nov. 2021 To watch any of the music videos Priya Ragu has released over the past year is to witness a preternatural pop talent arrive fully formed. Liam Hess, Vogue, 25 Oct. 2021 Fredericks had a preternatural gift for placing himself alongside people destined for acclaim. Benjamin Anastas, The New Yorker, 1 Nov. 2021 Her father, Brian Harmon, recalled seeing his daughter playing video games like Just Dance in her bedroom and catching on to the choreography with preternatural ability, which eventually led him to sign her up for dance classes. NBC News, 13 Oct. 2021 Zanis had a very tolerant wife, a preternatural ability to stay awake on long drives and a new calling. Mark Oppenheimer, WSJ, 6 Oct. 2021 Kwong’s magic is less impressive than his preternatural mathematical and verbal gifts. Los Angeles Times, 27 Sep. 2021 His posture alone suggested a preternatural elegance. Amanda Petrusic, The New Yorker, 25 Aug. 2021

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.

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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

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The first known use of preternatural was in 1580

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Last Updated

20 Jan 2022

Cite this Entry

“Preternatural.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 25 Jan. 2022.

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English Language Learners Definition of preternatural

: very unusual in a way that does not seem natural


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