Definitions

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • adj. Occurring in or characterized by intermittent bursts, as of activity; irregular. See Synonyms at periodic.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • adj. Irregular; unsteady; characterized by fits.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • adj. Full of fits; irregularly variable; impulsive and unstable.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • Varied by irregular fits of action and repose; occurring or marked by fits and starts; spasmodic; capricious; changeable; checkered: as, a fitful disease or mood; a fitful life or career.
  • Synonyms Irregular, variable, unstable.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • adj. intermittently stopping and starting
  • adj. occurring in spells and often abruptly

Etymologies

From fit +‎ -ful. (Wiktionary)

Examples

  • You could see the eroded gaps when someone underbought a book and it sold out, selling in fitful gaps whenever a stock-starved store managed to get their hands on a few copies.

    When "I've Heard Of Them!" Becomes "They've Heard Of Me!"

  • They only way they could sleep now, in short fitful frames, pressed to one another, crying, wearing themselves into broken, empty dreams of exhaustion.

    Archive 2006-09-03

  • But slower and slower grew her flight; strength at last was failing, for it had been too severely tried; her breath came quick and fast, in short, fitful gasps, and her heart beat heavily beneath her quivering breast.

    Parables from Flowers

  • He walked to and fro in short, fitful steps, crying that there was no help, no help.

    The Shadow of a Crime A Cumbrian Romance

  • Were there in the wide world of varying forms and faces a form and a face so much unlike his own as were those of the man who walked, nay, jerked along, in short, fitful paces, by his side?

    The Shadow of a Crime A Cumbrian Romance

  • All night it blew in short fitful puffs, heeling the great cog over until the water curled over her lee bulwarks.

    The White Company

  • The hungry cry of the beast of prey, or the fierce deed of savage man, whoop and dance, triumph and torture, broke in fitful bursts upon the deep silence, and then died away, leaving the breath of life to rise and fall with the passing winds.

    Rural Hours

  • When evening closed the flames were still visible, darting upwards in fitful flashes on the eastern horizon.

    Capture by the Confederate Ship Sumter of Two Federal Merchant Barques off Gibraltar

  • Sleeping in short, fitful spurts beneath the trees, hunger gnawing at their bellies, Palmer and her companions began to accept the hopelessness of the situation.

    EMPIRE

  • The greedy cry and gestures of the bearers, when, on changing, they break a fitful sleep by poking a torch in your face, and vociferating "Bucksheesh, Sahib;" their discontent at the most liberal largesse, and the sluggishness of the next set who want bribes, put the traveller out of patience with the natives.

    Himalayan Journals — Complete

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