se·​vere sə-ˈvir How to pronounce severe (audio)
severer; severest
: strict in judgment, discipline, or government
: of a strict or stern bearing or manner : austere
: rigorous in restraint, punishment, or requirement : stringent
: strongly critical or condemnatory
a severe critic
: maintaining a scrupulously exacting standard of behavior or self-discipline
: establishing exacting standards of accuracy and integrity in intellectual processes
a severe logician
: sober or restrained in decoration or manner : plain
a severe dress
: causing discomfort or hardship : harsh
severe winters
: very painful or harmful
a severe wound
: requiring great effort : arduous
a severe test
: of a great degree
severe depression
severely adverb
severeness 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

Example Sentences

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 Demanding — again — that Broward’s sheriff sign a deal to provide 911 services, Broward county commissioners Tuesday afternoon set a new deadline and this time swore to severe ties if there was no agreement. Lisa J. Huriash, Sun Sentinel, 24 Jan. 2023 Symptoms can range from mild symptoms to severe, typically appearing between 2-14 days after exposure. Leada Gore |, al, 18 Jan. 2023 Interest in bivalent boosters has been greater among older adults, whose vulnerability to severe COVID-19 is clearly higher. Melissa Healystaff Writer, Los Angeles Times, 10 Jan. 2023 According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, when large amounts of cadmium are eaten, severe stomach irritation, vomiting and diarrhea can result. Wyatte Grantham-philips, USA TODAY, 6 Jan. 2023 Strong to severe thunderstorms will develop across the region with the possibility of damaging winds, hail and a brief tornado risk overnight, putting 22 million Americans, from Texas to Tennessee, under alert. Melissa Griffin, ABC News, 2 Jan. 2023 Those hurt ranged in age from 17 to 57, and their injuries ranged from non-life-threatening to severe, police said in a statement. CBS News, 1 Jan. 2023 And unlike youthful India, which underwent a similar ordeal two years ago, China’s population is more like a Western society’s in age and related vulnerability to severe Covid. WSJ, 30 Dec. 2022 Treating inflammation in moderate to severe Covid-19 patients could quell both short and long-term consequences of infection. William A. Haseltine, Forbes, 28 Dec. 2022 See More

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.

Word History


Middle French or Latin; Middle French, from Latin severus

First Known Use

1548, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

Time Traveler
The first known use of severe was in 1548

Cite this Entry

“Severe.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 2 Feb. 2023.

Kids Definition


se·​vere sə-ˈvi(ə)r How to pronounce severe (audio)
severer; severest
: strict in judgment, discipline, or government
a severe ruler
: serious in feeling or manner : grave
: not using unnecessary ornament : plain
a severe style
: inflicting pain, distress, or hardship
severe wounds
a severe winter
: requiring great effort
a severe test
severely adverb

More from Merriam-Webster on severe

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