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[aw-fuh l] /ˈɔ fəl/
extremely bad; unpleasant; ugly:
awful paintings; an awful job.
inspiring fear; dreadful; terrible:
an awful noise.
solemnly impressive; inspiring awe:
the awful majesty of alpine peaks.
full of awe; reverential.
extremely dangerous, risky, injurious, etc.:
That was an awful fall she had. He took an awful chance by driving here so fast.
Informal. very; extremely:
He did an awful good job of painting the barn. It's awful hot in here.
Origin of awful
1200-50; Middle English a(g)heful, aueful; see awe, -ful; replacing Old English egefull dreadful
Related forms
awfulness, noun
quasi-awful, adjective
quasi-awfully, adverb
unawful, adjective
unawfulness, noun
Can be confused
awful, awesome, offal (see usage note at the current entry)
Usage note
Although some object to any use of awful or awfully in any sense not connected with a feeling of awe, both have been used in other senses for several centuries. Awful and awfully as adverbial intensifiers—awful(ly)hot; awful(ly)cold—appear in the early 19th century, following much the same pattern as horribly anddreadfully. As an adverb awful is less formal in tone than awfully. In the sense “inspiring awe or fear” awesome has largely replaced awful. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the Web for awful
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • She looked at me awful wishful when she said that, an' I nodded my head ag'in.

    Against Odds Lawrence L. Lynch
  • Phœbus protect me, but this is an awful place to speak of those who sleep.

    Philothea Lydia Maria Child
  • You see these poor people are in the most awful sort of trouble now.

  • It was awful to Harriett that her father should be ill, lying there at their mercy.

  • It's awful to be chained, especially for a dog like me that loves his freedom.

    Beautiful Joe Marshall Saunders
British Dictionary definitions for awful


very bad; unpleasant
(archaic) inspiring reverence or dread
(archaic) overcome with awe; reverential
(not standard) (intensifier): an awful cold day
Derived Forms
awfulness, noun
Word Origin
C13: see awe, -ful
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for awful

c.1300, agheful "worthy of respect or fear," from aghe, an earlier form of awe (n.), + -ful. Replaced Old English egefull. Weakened sense "very bad" is from 1809; weakened sense of "exceedingly" is by 1818.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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Slang definitions & phrases for awful



Extremely unpleasant or objectionable


Very; intensely: I feel awful bad about that

Related Terms


The Dictionary of American Slang, Fourth Edition by Barbara Ann Kipfer, PhD. and Robert L. Chapman, Ph.D.
Copyright (C) 2007 by HarperCollins Publishers.
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