fa·​tal ˈfā-tᵊl How to pronounce fatal (audio)
: causing death
a fatal crash
a fatal disease
a fatal wound
: bringing ruin
a fatal attraction to gambling
: causing failure
a fatal design flaw
Lack of sufficient support was fatal to his campaign.
: determining one's fate
the fatal flaw in this dazzling woman: a total lack of tasteMarya Mannes
: of or relating to fate
… this science sets a fatal necessity on things …H. O. Taylor
: resembling fate in proceeding according to a fixed sequence
: fateful
a fatal hour
obsolete : fated
Choose the Right Synonym for fatal

deadly, mortal, fatal, lethal mean causing or capable of causing death.

deadly applies to an established or very likely cause of death.

a deadly disease

mortal implies that death has occurred or is inevitable.

a mortal wound

fatal stresses the inevitability of what has in fact resulted in death or destruction.

fatal consequences

lethal applies to something that is bound to cause death or exists for the destruction of life.

lethal gas

Example Sentences

a disease that is often fatal a chemical that can be fatal to birds She made a fatal mistake.
Recent Examples on the Web One of seven people charged in connection with the August fatal shooting of 32-year-old Jordan Wiggins in Quincy is slated for arraignment on murder and other counts in connection with the case, prosecutors said. Travis Andersen, BostonGlobe.com, 23 Jan. 2023 Then, in October 2021, Alec was involved in an accidental fatal shooting while filming Rust. Meg Walters, Peoplemag, 23 Jan. 2023 That teen was not connected to Andre’s fatal shooting. Keith L. Alexander, Washington Post, 23 Jan. 2023 Seven people were also arrested and charged with domestic terrorism following the fatal shooting. Will Mcduffie, ABC News, 22 Jan. 2023 Another man, Ryan Vest, has already been arrested and charged with murder in the fatal shooting. Cameron Knight, The Enquirer, 21 Jan. 2023 Baldwin — who authorities said discharged the prop gun that led to the fatal shooting — could face a five-year prison sentence if a jury convicted him on one of the charges. Anousha Sakouistaff Writer, Los Angeles Times, 21 Jan. 2023 Oklahoma state police are investigating the fatal shooting of a Sudanese worker by local police officers at a pork processing plant earlier this month. Cara Tabachnick, CBS News, 21 Jan. 2023 The Coosa County Sheriff’s Office is asking for the public’s help in investigating a fatal shooting. Mike Cason | Mcason@al.com, al, 21 Jan. 2023 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'fatal.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

Word History


Middle English, from Latin fatalis, from fatum fate

First Known Use

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 4

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

Dictionary Entries Near fatal

Cite this Entry

“Fatal.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/fatal. Accessed 2 Feb. 2023.

Kids Definition


fa·​tal ˈfāt-ᵊl How to pronounce fatal (audio)
: deciding one's fate : fateful
on that fatal day
: causing death or ruin
a fatal accident

Medical Definition


fa·​tal ˈfāt-ᵊl How to pronounce fatal (audio)
: causing death
a fatal diabetic comaHavelock Ellis
fatally adverb

Legal Definition


: causing failure of a legal claim or cause of action
a fatal defect in the proceedingsW. R. LaFave and J. H. Israel
: making something (as a contract) invalid or unenforceable
there is a fatal indefiniteness with the result that the agreement is voidJ. D. Calamari and J. M. Perillo
fatally adverb

More from Merriam-Webster on fatal

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