awful

1 of 2

adjective

aw·​ful ˈȯ-fəl How to pronounce awful (audio)
1
: extremely disagreeable or objectionable
awful food
awful behavior
an awful experience
2
informal : exceedingly great
used as an intensive
an awful lot of money
3
: inspiring awe
… the presence of Nature in all her awful loveliness.George Eliot
4
: filled with awe: such as
a
: deeply respectful or reverential
b
obsolete : afraid, terrified
awfully
ˈȯ-fə-lē How to pronounce awful (audio)
 especially as an adverb of adjective senses 3 and 4  -flē
adverb
an awfully [=extremely] long time
behaving awfully
awfulness noun
Using Awful as an Adjective and Adverb: Usage Guide

Some grammarians take issue with the senses of awful and awfully that do not convey the etymological connection with awe. However, senses 1 and 2 of the adjective were being used in speech and casual writing by the late 18th century.

It is an awful while since you have heard from me … John Keats (letter)
There was an awful crowd … Sir Walter Scott (letter)
This is an awful thing to say to Oil Painters … William Blake

Adverbial use of awful as an intensifier began to appear in print in the early 19th century, as did the senses of awfully corresponding to senses 1 and 2 of the adjective. Awfully continues to enjoy widespread use in newspapers and the like.

It is worth remembering that the vote in the Senate about the Gulf War was an awfully close 53 to 47 … James P. Rubin
"Let the good times roll" can be an awfully alluring philosophy … Rod Dreher

The adverb awful, on the other hand, is largely restricted to informal prose and to the spoken language it emulates and is chiefly an American use.

I tell them that seven years is an awful long time. Kenneth Feinberg
Awful quiet out there, I thought. Disquietingly quiet. Mike Sutter
"There are some awful good golfers playing in the tournament this week," observed Cook. George Geise

awful

2 of 2

adverb

chiefly US, informal
: very, extremely
awful tired
an awful long time

Examples of awful in a Sentence

Adjective They heard the most awful sounds. Awful things began to happen. He has some awful disease. That joke is just awful. That's an awful thing to say. Who painted the house that awful color? The mountains have an awful majesty. Adverb We haven't heard from him in an awful long time. You've come an awful long way.
Recent Examples on the Web
Adjective
The novel jumps around temporally and includes an unfinished manuscript and an awful memoir, but these disparate threads tie together in a delightful resolution. Matt Brennan, Los Angeles Times, 8 Apr. 2024 The episode ended with the whole gang on a flight back to L.A., featuring Susie opening her window shade on the plane and getting in a fight with the regular cast and crew about the awful glare. Gillian Telling, Peoplemag, 8 Apr. 2024 The thought of ditching airlines, with their awful customer service and addictive loyalty programs, may be the greatest promise of the AAV revolution. Christopher Elliott, USA TODAY, 5 Apr. 2024 Chronic pain can be awful, so people are very motivated to find pain relief by any means. Ed Cara / Gizmodo, Quartz, 2 Apr. 2024 The First Amendment gives everyone leeway to say many crazy, awful, violent things but not to do most of them. Sarah Larson, The New Yorker, 2 Apr. 2024 Great image for an iconic series, awful choice for a fictional self-destructive leading man. Julie Hinds, Detroit Free Press, 31 Mar. 2024 There are plenty of reasons to savor the original movie, most of them having to do with the casting, some of it campy and awful in a truly wonderful way, some just plain spectacular. Brian Lowry, CNN, 27 Mar. 2024 Before this week Brazil were in awful form and decided to part ways with ex-boss Fernando Diniz. Joseph O'Sullivan, Forbes, 27 Mar. 2024
Adverb
Someone who has worked awful hard, has a great skill set, four years of college, four years of lifting, four years of game-planning at a high level in Division III. Dom Amore, Hartford Courant, 26 May 2022 First, there is the question whether the awful-looking restraint maneuver Chauvin used was actually authorized at the time, or at least not clearly forbidden. D.j. Tice, Star Tribune, 20 Feb. 2021 The following day, Gonzalez was back at the testing site, helping patients — many of whom had fevers and awful-sounding coughs — fill out their paperwork. Karen Ann Cullotta, chicagotribune.com, 2 Oct. 2020

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'awful.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History

Etymology

Adjective

Middle English aghful, awful "frightful, terrifying, commanding great respect, worthy of reverence," from aw, awe "terror, dread, extreme reverence" + -ful -ful entry 1 — more at awe entry 1

Adverb

derivative of awful entry 1

First Known Use

Adjective

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 3

Adverb

1816, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of awful was in the 14th century

Dictionary Entries Near awful

Cite this Entry

“Awful.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/awful. Accessed 15 Apr. 2024.

Kids Definition

awful

1 of 2 adjective
aw·​ful ˈȯ-fəl How to pronounce awful (audio)
1
2
: extremely disagreeable or unpleasant
3
: very great
took an awful chance
awfulness noun

awful

2 of 2 adverb
: very entry 2 sense 1
awful tired

More from Merriam-Webster on awful

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