noun \ ˈkwäm also ˈkwȯm or ˈkwälm \
|Updated on: 20 Jul 2018

Definition of qualm

1 : a feeling of uneasiness about a point especially of conscience or propriety
  • had no qualms about asking for their help
  • It was about an enduring secular world where people did unspeakable things, seemingly without qualm and without any grave consequences to themselves.
  • —Jim Holt
2 : a sudden feeling of usually disturbing emotion (such as doubt or fear)
  • I had a qualm of absolute horror, and shuddered; and then the emotion was immediately repressed or suppressed.
  • —Oliver Sacks
3 : a sudden attack of illness, faintness, or nausea
  • The doctor seemed seized with a qualm of faintness.
  • —Robert Louis Stevenson


play \ˈkwä-mē also ˈkwȯ- or ˈkwäl-\ adjective

qualm was our Word of the Day on 01/16/2016. Hear the podcast!

Examples of qualm in a Sentence

  1. He accepted their offer without a qualm.

  2. she has no qualms about downloading pirated music files from the Internet

Recent Examples of qualm from the Web

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

Did You Know?

Etymologists aren't sure where qualm originated, but they do know it entered English around 1530. Originally, it referred to a sudden sick feeling. Robert Louis Stevenson made use of this older sense in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: A qualm came over me, a horrid nausea and the most deadly shuddering. Soon after qualm entered the language, it came to designate not only sudden attacks of illness, but also sudden attacks of emotion or principle. In The Sketch Book, for example, Washington Irving wrote, Immediately after one of these fits of extravagance, he will be taken with violent qualms of economy.... Eventually, qualm took on the specific (and now most common) meaning of doubt or uneasiness, particularly in not following one's conscience or better judgment.

Origin and Etymology of qualm

origin unknown

Synonym Discussion of qualm

qualm, scruple, compunction, demur mean a misgiving about what one is doing or going to do. qualm implies an uneasy fear that one is not following one's conscience or better judgment.
    • no qualms about plagiarizing
scruple implies doubt of the rightness of an act on grounds of principle.
    • no scruples against buying stolen goods
compunction implies a spontaneous feeling of responsibility or compassion for a potential victim.
    • had compunctions about lying
demur implies hesitation caused by objection to an outside suggestion or influence.
    • accepted her decision without demur

QUALM Defined for English Language Learners


Definition of qualm for English Language Learners

  • : a feeling of doubt or uncertainty about whether you are doing the right thing

QUALM Defined for Kids


noun \ ˈkwäm , ˈkwälm \

Definition of qualm for Students

: a feeling of doubt or uncertainty especially in matters of right and wrong She had no qualms about lying.

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