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

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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 Or is this a petulant man who has a preternatural gift for trolling? Jennifer Szalai, New York Times, "In ‘Antisocial,’ How the Alt-Right Went Viral," 7 Oct. 2019 Then Gorsuch, a man of preternatural confidence, pauses to celebrate that he himself will be forgotten. Sherif Girgis, National Review, "Neil Gorsuch’s Judicial Humility," 5 Dec. 2019 The Clippers have several capable ballhandlers and willing passers, but departed guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was beloved for his preternatural feel for the game. Andrew Greif, Los Angeles Times, "Clippers begin camp with big expectations and some concerns," 28 Sep. 2019 With its lineup of reboots, spinoffs, prequels and sequels, Disney+ is leaning into its preternatural ability to leverage nostalgia into billions of dollars. Christopher Brito, CBS News, "Disney+ puts warning for "outdated cultural depictions" in some of its classic movies," 13 Nov. 2019 Reese Witherspoon plays Bradley Jackson, a local reporter on another network whose viral rant at the coal protest turns her into national news, and whose scrappy underdog status is hard to square with Witherspoon’s preternatural star presence. Sophie Gilbert, The Atlantic, "What Makes The Morning Show Worth Watching," 1 Nov. 2019 From the outset, Perkins’ film acknowledges the preternatural connection twins often share, granting them access to the same feelings and premonitions, and binding them in ways that seem to exist beyond the reach of logic. Justin Chang, Los Angeles Times, "Review: Twin brothers Alex and Marcus Lewis tell their hauntingly strange story in ‘Tell Me Who I Am’," 17 Oct. 2019 Alongside Paragon was a singer with preternatural pipes, belting originals and parodies in the finest fashion. Morena Duwe, Billboard, "Breakdancing, Bingo & Bass: The 10 Best Moments of Dirtybird Campout West Coast 2019," 7 Oct. 2019 Armed with tuning forks, recorders, several mechanical contraptions and a kind of preternatural sense of detection, the hyper-focused, soft-spoken Peter zeroes in on the audible troublemakers. Gary Goldstein, Los Angeles Times, "Review: ‘The Sound of Silence’ finds darkness in the aural world," 12 Sep. 2019

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

6 Jan 2020

Cite this Entry

“Preternatural.” The Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., Accessed 29 January 2020.

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More Definitions for preternatural


How to pronounce preternatural (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of preternatural

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

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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 assert without proof or before proving

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