Definitions

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

  • adj. Extremely bad or unpleasant; terrible: had an awful day at the office.
  • adj. Commanding awe: "this sea, whose gently awful stirrings seem to speak of some hidden soul beneath” ( Herman Melville).
  • adj. Filled with awe, especially:
  • adj. Filled with or displaying great reverence.
  • adj. Obsolete Afraid.
  • adj. Formidable in nature or extent: an awful burden; an awful risk.
  • adv. Informal Extremely; very: was awful sick.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

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

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

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

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

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

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

Etymologies

Middle English aweful, awe-inspiring, blend of awe, awe; see awe, and *ayfull, awful (from Old English egefull : ege, dread + -full, -ful).
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)
From awe +‎ -ful. (Wiktionary)

Examples

  • "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

  • "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

  • “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.

    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

  • The former Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, about a year ago this time told a key Israeli newspaper that the Israelis really must make what he called the awful and difficult decisions and to really have the courage to make those decisions that you have avoided for the last 40 years, which is that there will be no peace without a withdrawal from nearly all of the occupied territories and give the Palestinians a same percentage swap in -- in the other cases, and that Jerusalem must be shared with special arrangements for the holy sites.

    CNN Transcript Sep 23, 2009

Comments

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  • originally meant 'deserving of awe'

    September 8, 2009

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

    October 20, 2007

  • But fatal is the Spanish for awful.

    October 20, 2007

  • I don't think awful can mean fatal.

    October 20, 2007

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

    October 19, 2007

  • Horrible, fatal

    October 19, 2007

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

    January 31, 2007