Definitions

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition.

  • adjective Extremely bad or unpleasant; terrible.
  • adjective Commanding awe.
  • adjective Filled with awe, especially.
  • adjective Filled with or displaying great reverence.
  • adjective Obsolete Afraid.
  • adjective Formidable in nature or extent.
  • adverb Extremely; very.

from The Century Dictionary.

  • Striking or inspiring with awe; filling with dread, or dread mingled with profound reverence: as, the awful majesty of Jehovah; the awful approach of death.
  • Of a dreadful character; causing fear or horror; terrible; appalling: as, an awful disaster; I heard an awful shriek.
  • Inspiring or commanding respect, reverence, or obedience.
  • Expressive of or indicating deep awe, as for the Deity.
  • Impressed with or exhibiting respect or reverence, as for authority; law-abiding; respectful in the extreme.
  • Having some character in an extreme or noticeable degree; excessive; very great; extraordinary; preposterous: as, he is an awful dandy; that is an awful bonnet.
  • Synonyms and Awful, Dreadful, Fearful, Frightful, solemn, imposing, majestic; dread, dire, dreadful, terrible. The first four of these words are often loosely or colloquially used to express dislike, detestation, or horror, but should in the main retain the same distinctions of meaning as the nouns from which they are derived. Thus, awful is full of awe, full of that which inspires awe, exciting a feeling of deep solemnity and reverence, often with a certain admixture of fear, acting especially upon the imagination (see reverence, n.); the suggestion may shift in all degrees from awe to horror: as, an awful steamboat explosion.
  • Dreadful is applied to what inspires dread, that is, an oppressive fear of coming evil, and loosely to what is very bad. Fearful, full of fear, impressing fear: as, “a certain fearful looking for of judgment,” Heb. x. 27. Frightful, not full of fright, but inspiring fright or sudden and almost paralyzing fear. An awful sight; a dreadful disaster; a fearful leap; a frightful chasm.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English.

  • adjective Oppressing with fear or horror; appalling; terrible.
  • adjective Inspiring awe; filling with profound reverence, or with fear and admiration; fitted to inspire reverential fear; profoundly impressive.
  • adjective obsolete Struck or filled with awe; terror-stricken.
  • adjective obsolete Worshipful; reverential; law-abiding.
  • adjective Slang Frightful; exceedingly bad; great; -- applied intensively

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.

  • adjective Oppressing with fear or horror; appalling, terrible.
  • adjective Inspiring awe; filling with profound reverence or respect; profoundly impressive.
  • adjective Struck or filled with awe.
  • adjective obsolete Terror-stricken.
  • adjective Worshipful; reverential; law-abiding.
  • adjective Exceedingly great; usually applied intensively.
  • adjective Very bad.
  • adverb colloquial Very, extremely; as, an awful big house.

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

  • adverb used as intensifiers
  • adjective inspired by a feeling of fearful wonderment or reverence
  • adjective extreme in degree or extent or amount or impact
  • adjective exceptionally bad or displeasing
  • adjective causing fear or dread or terror
  • adjective offensive or even (of persons) malicious
  • adjective inspiring awe or admiration or wonder

Etymologies

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

[Middle English aweful, awe-inspiring, blend of awe, awe; see awe, and *ayfull, awful (from Old English egefull : ege, dread + -full, -ful).]

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

From awe +‎ -ful.

Examples

  • "Yer takin 'awful chances, miss -- just _awful_," warned the neighbor, edging backward toward her house with the air of having completed her duty.

    Red-Robin

  • "It is an awful, _awful_ thing that the boys of Polktown can even get hold of such stuff to make them so ill."

    How Janice Day Won

  • “Oh, Jack, you awful, _awful_ liar, what shall I say to you?”

    A Woman's Will

  • This book is written from a Protestant standpoint, but by a man who was a Catholic fifty-six years before he ever became a Protestant, and we feel absolutely certain that the Catholic world will endeavor to throttle its circulation, but we have laid aside every vestige of fear from that standpoint and have made up our mind that we are no better than Martin Luther, and thousands of Protestants who were burned at the stake by Catholicism for proclaiming to the world the awful deeds of that _awful creed_.

    Thirty Years In Hell Or, From Darkness to Light

  • To Clytie he once said, of something for which he was about to ask her permission, "Oh, it must be awful, _awful_ wicked -- because I want to do it very, very much!

    The Seeker

  • "If you could bottle up and sell what you call awful, you'd make a million."

    Rekindled

  • Only it may be remarked that the word awful, which is here used designedly, is not meant to imply that the loss of life was unusually large or the cruelty of the captors outrageous; in both respects Alaric and his Goths would compare favourably with some generals and some armies making much higher pretensions to civilisation.

    Theodoric the Goth Barbarian Champion of Civilisation

  • Pearce felt he had truly seen a game of two halves after his team recovered from what he described as an "awful" opening 45 minutes.

    Telegraph.co.uk - Telegraph online, Daily Telegraph and Sunday Telegraph

  • Pearce felt he had truly seen a game of two halves after his team recovered from what he described as an "awful" opening 45 minutes.

    Evening Standard - Home

  • In these and hundreds of other cases he uses remorse almost as promiscuously as the adjective "awful" is now often popularly used where a much milder word would do, and in his employment of it in relation to his dead wife, it is his sense of profound and unavailing sorrow that he desires to convey by it or his despairing consciousness of his own unworthiness of the woman he had beatified.

    New Letters and Memorials of Jane Welsh Carlyle

Comments

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  • Contronymic in the sense: bad, evil vs. good, uplifting, sacred.

    January 31, 2007

  • Horrible, fatal

    October 19, 2007

  • Interesting that both of those Spanish words are English words too.

    October 19, 2007

  • I don't think awful can mean fatal.

    October 20, 2007

  • But fatal is the Spanish for awful.

    October 20, 2007

  • I feel awful (English) = Me siento fatal (Spanish)

    October 20, 2007

  • originally meant 'deserving of awe'

    September 8, 2009