fear·​ful ˈfir-fəl How to pronounce fearful (audio)
: causing or likely to cause fear, fright, or alarm especially because of dangerous quality
a fearful storm
: full of fear
fearful for his safety
: indicating or arising from fear
a fearful glance
: inclined to fear : timorous
: very great or bad
used as an intensive
a fearful wastefearful slum conditions
fearfully adverb
fearfulness noun
Choose the Right Synonym for fearful

fearful, apprehensive, afraid mean disturbed by fear.

fearful implies often a timorous or worrying temperament.

the child is fearful of loud noises

apprehensive suggests a state of mind and implies a premonition of evil or danger.

apprehensive of being found out

afraid often suggests weakness or cowardice and regularly implies inhibition of action or utterance.

afraid to speak the truth

Example Sentences

He plays the role of a timid and fearful clerk. They won the war but at a fearful cost.
Recent Examples on the Web Liberals, a minority in Israel, are fearful of Ben Gvir’s proposals which, if passed, would affect Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. Orly Halpern, Time, 7 Nov. 2022 Investors are typically fearful of a downturn, turning to the options market for protection against a selloff. Eric Wallerstein, WSJ, 24 Oct. 2022 Since the Nixon era, Democrats have been fearful of being on the wrong side of the crime issue. Walter Shapiro, The New Republic, 13 Oct. 2022 Cuevas, a gay Hispanic man himself, said because the disease was mischaracterized as a disease only affecting LGBTQ populations, Hispanic Americans may have been fearful of being outed. Mary Kekatos, ABC News, 7 Oct. 2022 The creep of workplace technology into everyday life could make workers too fearful to speak with each other, let alone organize, Abruzzo said in the memo. Irina Ivanova, CBS News, 1 Nov. 2022 As his victims remained fearful that their attacker could be lurking around any corner or in any doorway, their hopes for an arrest dwindled with each decade. Taylor Hartz, Hartford Courant, 24 Oct. 2022 Her mother, fearful of the danger, begged her not to go. Diana Reese, Washington Post, 13 Oct. 2022 Spooked by Kwarteng’s doubling down on the mammoth tax cuts and fearful about their potential impact on the U.K. Chloe Taylor, Fortune, 26 Sep. 2022 See More

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

Word History


Middle English feerful, fereful "inspiring dread, frightened," from fer fear entry 1 + -ful -ful entry 1

First Known Use

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

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

Dictionary Entries Near fearful

Cite this Entry

“Fearful.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/fearful. Accessed 28 Nov. 2022.

Kids Definition



fear·​ful ˈfi(ə)r-fəl How to pronounce fearful (audio)
: causing fear
the fearful roar of a lion
: filled with fear
fearful of danger
: showing or caused by fear
a fearful glance
: extremely bad, large, or intense
fearful cold
fearfully adverb
fearfulness noun

More from Merriam-Webster on fearful

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