Definitions

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

  • adjective Occurring in or characterized by intermittent bursts, as of activity; irregular.

from The Century Dictionary.

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

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

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

  • adjective Irregular; unsteady; characterized by fits.

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

  • adjective intermittently stopping and starting
  • adjective occurring in spells and often abruptly

Etymologies

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

From fit +‎ -ful.

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

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

    The White Company

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

    The White Company

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

    The White Company

  • 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

  • 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

  • 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

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