adjective se·vere \ sə-ˈvir \
|Updated on: 14 Jul 2018

Definition of severe

severer; severest
1 a : 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
4 a : 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
6 a : 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






play \sə-ˈver-ə-tē\ noun

Examples of severe in a Sentence

  1. 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 Week9 Mar. 2009
  2. 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 BegleyNewsweek9 Mar. 2009
  3. 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 Books23 Mar. 2006
  4. 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 LemannNew Yorker10 May 1999
  5. The storm caused severe damage to the roof.

  6. The patient is in severe pain.

  7. children with severe learning disabilities

  8. In the most severe cases, the disease can lead to blindness.

  9. He suffered a severe head injury.

  10. He faces severe penalties for his actions.

  11. The war was a severe test of his leadership.

Recent Examples of severe from the Web

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.

Origin and Etymology of severe

Middle French or Latin; Middle French, from Latin severus

Synonym Discussion of 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

SEVERE Defined for English Language Learners


Definition of severe for English Language Learners

  • : very bad, serious, or unpleasant

  • : causing a lot of physical pain or suffering

  • : very harsh

SEVERE Defined for Kids


adjective se·vere \ sə-ˈvir \

Definition of severe for Students

severer; severest
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



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