Definitions

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

  • adj. Unsparing, harsh, or strict, as in treatment of others: a severe critic.
  • adj. Marked by or requiring strict adherence to rigorous standards or high principles: a severe code of behavior.
  • adj. Stern or forbidding, as in manner or appearance: spoke in a severe voice.
  • adj. Extremely plain in substance or style: a severe black dress.
  • adj. Causing great discomfort, damage, or distress: a severe pain; a severe storm.
  • adj. Very dangerous or harmful; grave or grievous: severe mental illness.
  • adj. Extremely difficult to perform or endure; trying: a severe test of our loyalty.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • adj. Very bad or intense.
  • adj. Strict or harsh.
  • adj. Sober, plain in appearance, austere.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • adj. Serious in feeling or manner; sedate; grave; austere; not light, lively, or cheerful.
  • adj. Very strict in judgment, discipline, or government; harsh; not mild or indulgent; rigorous.
  • adj. Rigidly methodical, or adherent to rule or principle; exactly conformed to a standard; not allowing or employing unneccessary ornament, amplification, etc.; strict; -- said of style, argument, etc.
  • adj. Sharp; afflictive; distressing; violent; extreme.
  • adj. Difficult to be endured; exact; critical; rigorous.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • Serious or earnest in feeling, manner, or appearance; without levity; sedate; grave; austere; not light, lively, or cheerful.
  • Very strict in judgment, discipline, or ac tion; not mild or indulgent; rigorous; harsh; rigid; merciless: as, severe criticism; severe punishment.
  • Strictly regulated by rule or principle; exactly conforming to a standard; rigidly methodical; hence, in lit., art, etc., avoiding, or not exhibiting or permitting, unnecessary or florid ornament, amplification, or the like; restrained; not luxuriant; always keeping measure; pure in line and form; chaste in conception; subordinated to a high ideal: as, a severe style of writing; the severest style of Greek architecture; the severe school of German music.
  • Sharp; afflictive; distressing; violent; extreme: as, severe pain, anguish, or torture; severe cold; a severe winter.
  • Difficult to be endured; trying; critical; rigorous: as, a severe test; a severe examination.
  • Synonyms and Harsh, Strict, etc. (see austere), unrelenting.
  • Exact, accurate, unadorned, chaste.
  • Cutting, keen, biting.

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

  • adj. unsparing and uncompromising in discipline or judgment
  • adj. severely simple
  • adj. intensely or extremely bad or unpleasant in degree or quality
  • adj. causing fear or anxiety by threatening great harm
  • adj. very strong or vigorous
  • adj. very bad in degree or extent

Etymologies

Latin sevērus, serious, strict.
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)
From Latin severus ("severe, serious, grave in demeanor"). (Wiktionary)

Examples

  • I opened up Firefox this evening to a severe weather alert from ForecastFox…which surprised me, given that it’s lovely weather: a bit of clouds, maybe some rain later, but nothing I’d call *severe*!

    so that’s a little crazy - emergency weblog; or: epersonae; or: elaine nelson

  • For example, we've estimated the distribution of a strong ground shaking because it's not always the epicenter, it's distributed along the fault, and we can estimate how much shaking actually occurred, and we estimated that close to three-fourths of a million people experienced vital to extreme shaking with very heavy damage and an additional 2 million people on top of that experienced what we term severe shaking, also expecting heavy damage.

    CNN Transcript Jan 12, 2010

  • The phrase "severe reality distortion field" is probably not one you bump into every day.

    The Globe and Mail - Home RSS feed

  • He defended government actions, saying they are necessary to avoid what he called a severe disruption to the financial markets.

    CNN Transcript Sep 18, 2008

  • It's not what I call severe sickness, but he is coughing and blowing his nose.

    the monday of doom

  • Pressure for his resignation has been building since Monday, when a government commission blamed Mr. Olmert for what it called his severe failures during Israel's war against Lebanon's Hezbollah guerrillas last summer.

    CNN Transcript May 2, 2007

  • They say they will work with what they call severe flaws in the plan to change them during the legislative process.

    CNN Transcript May 21, 2007

  • That means we could see 20 or more tornadoes, two of which could be what we call severe tornadoes or a very large wind event and that's one of the big things that we're concerned about today, Rob, is that duratio (ph), as we call them or a large-scale wind event that can cause miles and miles of damage.

    CNN Transcript Jun 7, 2007

  • We spoke to one leader yesterday who saw Robertson's remarks and the result of it as what he called a severe blow.

    CNN Transcript Jan 12, 2006

  • WASHINGTON AP–The United States expressed concern Wednesday over what it termed severe violations of religious freedom in six countries: Burma, China, Iran, Iraq, North Korea and Sudan.

    U.S. Concerned About Religious Freedom

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