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

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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.
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Recent Examples on the Web

Dear Tom, In recent years, our family cabin in Ely, Minn., has been repeatedly been hit by severe thunderstorms. Tom Skilling,, "Ask Tom: Is there a reason one particular area keeps getting hit by severe thunderstorms?," 12 July 2018 On July 10, 1989, severe thunderstorms spawned 17 tornadoes in the Northeast, with three in Connecticut. Gary Lessor,, "Sunny, Hot, Humid Conditions Tuesday," 9 July 2018 For northern states such as Minnesota, the upper Midwest and western portions of Wisconsin, severe thunderstorms are a high possibility — and will be accompanied with large hail and damaging winds. Editors, USA TODAY, "Fourth of July, Wimbledon, high temperatures across U.S.: 5 things to know Wednesday," 4 July 2018 The National Weather Service in Pleasant Hill said the rotation was in a severe thunderstorm that was capable of producing a tornado. Robert A. Cronkleton, kansascity, "Tornado warning issued for southeastern Kansas City," 26 June 2018 Isolated strong to severe thunderstorms will be possible on Wednesday, with damaging winds the main threat. Sarah Brookbank,, "Cincinnati weather: Showers early this week, then hot and sunny through the weekend," 25 June 2018 Strong to severe thunderstorms are possible from the Plains, across the Mid South and into the Midatlantic today. Janice Dean, Fox News, "Severe storms, extreme heat and flood relief for Texas," 22 June 2018 Strong to severe thunderstorms are possible again in the Houston region today, following a night of heavy rains over southeast Texas. Samantha Ketterer, Houston Chronicle, "Strong thunderstorms forecast again in Southeast Texas today," 4 June 2018 His stumbles in the 1984 Finals against Boston were every bit as severe as James's in 2011 against Dallas. Lee Jenkins,, "Fit For The King: LeBron James and the Lakers Form Hollywood's Ultimate Marriage," 11 July 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.

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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

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Statistics for severe

Last Updated

3 Nov 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for severe

The first known use of severe was in 1548

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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

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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).


playful or foolish behavior

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