se·vere | \ sə-ˈvir \
severer; severest

Definition of severe 

1a : strict in judgment, discipline, or government

b : of a strict or stern bearing or manner : austere

2 : rigorous in restraint, punishment, or requirement : stringent

3 : strongly critical or condemnatory a severe critic

4a : maintaining a scrupulously exacting standard of behavior or self-discipline

b : establishing exacting standards of accuracy and integrity in intellectual processes a severe logician

5 : sober or restrained in decoration or manner : plain a severe dress

6a : causing discomfort or hardship : harsh severe winters

b : very painful or harmful a severe wound

7 : requiring great effort : arduous a severe test

8 : of a great degree severe depression

Keep scrolling for more

Other words from severe

severely adverb
severeness noun
severity \sə-ˈver-ə-tē \ noun

Choose the Right Synonym for severe

severe, stern, austere, ascetic mean given to or marked by strict discipline and firm restraint. severe implies standards enforced without indulgence or laxity and may suggest harshness. severe military discipline stern stresses inflexibility and inexorability of temper or character. stern arbiters of public morality austere stresses absence of warmth, color, or feeling and may apply to rigorous restraint, simplicity, or self-denial. living an austere life in the country ascetic implies abstention from pleasure and comfort or self-indulgence as spiritual discipline. the ascetic life of the monks

Examples of severe in a Sentence

On Feb. 25 regulators laid out details on how they will run the "stress tests" that Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner has promised on the biggest banks. Now those tests, designed to judge whether the banks have the capital to keep lending and absorb losses in a severe recession, face an exam of their own. —Jane Sasseen et al., Business Week, 9 Mar. 2009 A study in February in the journal Lancet, for instance, compared treatments for severe ankle sprains, concluding that a below-the-knee cast is superior to a tubular compression bandage. —Sharon Begley, Newsweek, 9 Mar. 2009 Between 2000 and 2004 the number of Americans covered by Medicaid rose by a remarkable eight million. Over the same period the ranks of the uninsured rose by six million. So without the growth of Medicaid, the uninsured population would have exploded, and we'd be facing a severe crisis in medical care. —Paul Krugman et al., New York Review of Books, 23 Mar. 2006 As several economists—most notably Jeffrey Williamson, of Harvard University—have written recently, international trade increased dramatically between 1850 and the First World War. Williamson goes on to point out that one consequence of this earlier period of globalization was that governments retreated into policies of severe trade and immigration restrictions. —Nicholas Lemann, New Yorker, 10 May 1999 The storm caused severe damage to the roof. The patient is in severe pain. children with severe learning disabilities In the most severe cases, the disease can lead to blindness. He suffered a severe head injury. He faces severe penalties for his actions. The war was a severe test of his leadership.
See More

Recent Examples on the Web

Hossa, 39, did not play last season because of severe side effects from medication to treat a progressive skin disorder., "US Olympic Committee tabs Sarah Hirshland as its CEO," 13 July 2018 This process, called phytodermatitis, can result in severe burns and blistering, permanent scarring, eye irritation, and even blindness, according to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYDEC). Sarah Klein,, "Giant Hogweed Sent This Virginia Teen to the Hospital. Here's What to Know About the Scary Plant That Can Burn Your Skin and Lead to Blindness," 13 July 2018 Tiran suffered severe burns and is undergoing a leg amputation. Ashley Mcdonough,, "GoFundMe Set Up For Family Of Atlanta Woman Killed In Bahamas Boat Accident On Her Anniversary Raises $140K," 12 July 2018 While a cold front will pass through tonight with a few possible showers and perhaps a thunderstorm, severe weather is not expected. Gary Lessor,, "Sunny, Hot, Humid Conditions Tuesday," 9 July 2018 The year before that, a man lost three fingers and suffered severe burns. Dan Sweeney,, "Readers say ban fireworks outright rather than allowing purchase through loophole," 5 July 2018 Mosquito bite sensitivity can lead to allergic reactions to mosquito saliva, which can range from mild to severe. Patty Khuly, miamiherald, "Protect your dogs and cats from swarms of mosquitoes. Here's how to do it.," 29 June 2018 Ali’s older brother, Ahmed, 4 at the time, survived severe burns and is being raised by Hussein Dawabshe and his wife, Satira. Dina Kraft, The Christian Science Monitor, "Into dark cycle of Mideast revenge, this group tries to bring light," 28 June 2018 Canares said mild burns can be treated a home with aloe or other remedies recommended by the family doctor, but more severe burns with blisters larger than an index finger require emergency attention. Meredith Cohn,, "With 4th of July come warnings about dangers from fireworks," 28 June 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'severe.' 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 severe

1548, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

History and Etymology for severe

Middle French or Latin; Middle French, from Latin severus

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about severe

Statistics for severe

Last Updated

8 Sep 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for severe

The first known use of severe was in 1548

See more words from the same year

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for severe



English Language Learners Definition of severe

: very bad, serious, or unpleasant

: causing a lot of physical pain or suffering

: very harsh


se·vere | \ sə-ˈvir \
severer; severest

Kids Definition of severe

1 : serious in feeling or manner The sheriff gave me a … severe lecture about driving without a license … —Sharon Creech, Walk Two Moons

2 : hard to bear or deal with severe suffering a severe test

3 : very strict : harsh a severe ruler

4 : not using unnecessary ornament : plain a severe style

Other words from severe

severely adverb

Keep scrolling for more

More from Merriam-Webster on severe

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for severe

Spanish Central: Translation of severe

Nglish: Translation of severe for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of severe for Arabic Speakers

Comments on severe

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


alleviating pain or harshness

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Musical Words Quiz

  • gramophone
  • Which word describes a musical performance marked by the absence of instrumental accompaniment?
How Strong Is Your Vocabulary?

Test your vocabulary with our 10-question quiz!

Word Winder's CrossWinder

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!