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From Middle English dedly, dedlych, dedlich, from Old English dēadlīċ (adjective); corresponding to dead +‎ -ly. Cognate with Dutch dodelijk, German tödlich.

The adverb is from Middle English dedliche, from Old English dēadlīċe (adverb), from the adjective.


  • IPA(key): /ˈdɛ
  • (file)


deadly (comparative deadlier or more deadly, superlative deadliest or most deadly)

  1. (obsolete) Subject to death; mortal.
    • 1485, Sir Thomas Malory, chapter xxij, in Le Morte Darthur, book XVII:
      And whan he cam to the sacrament of the masse / and had done / anone he called Galahad and sayd to hym come forthe the seruaunt of Ihesu cryst and thou shalt see that thou hast moche desyred to see / & thenne he beganne to tremble ryght hard / whan the dedely flesshe beganne to beholde the spyrytuel thynges
    • 1382–1395, John Wycliffe et al. (translators), Romans i. 23:
      The image of a deadly man.
  2. Causing death; lethal.
    • 1949 George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four, Part Two, Chapter 9, [1]
      [] others search for new and deadlier gases, or for soluble poisons capable of being produced in such quantities as to destroy the vegetation of whole continents []
  3. Aiming or willing to destroy; implacable; desperately hostile.
    deadly enemies
  4. Very accurate (of aiming with a bow, firearm, etc.).
    • 1879, R[ichard] J[efferies], chapter 1, in The Amateur Poacher, London: Smith, Elder, & Co., [], OCLC 752825175:
      But then I had the [massive] flintlock by me for protection. ¶ [] The linen-press and a chest on the top of it formed, however, a very good gun-carriage; and, thus mounted, aim could be taken out of the window [], and a 'bead' could be drawn upon Molly, the dairymaid, kissing the fogger behind the hedge, little dreaming that the deadly tube was levelled at them.
  5. (informal) Very boring.
    • 1907, Robert William Chambers, chapter VI, in The Younger Set, New York, N.Y.: D. Appleton & Company, OCLC 24962326:
      “I don't mean all of your friends—only a small proportion—which, however, connects your circle with that deadly, idle, brainless bunch—the insolent chatterers at the opera, the gorged dowagers, the worn-out, passionless men, the enervated matrons of the summer capital, []!”
    • 2001, Oliver Sacks, Uncle Tungsten: Memories of a Chemical Boyhood:
      Now, at school, I was forced to sit in classes, to take notes and exams, to use textbooks that were flat, impersonal, deadly.
    • 2009, Gay Lumsden, ‎Donald Lumsden, ‎Carolyn Wiethoff, Communicating in Groups and Teams: Sharing Leadership (page 324)
      Students, of course, know the difference between a deadly lecture and a stimulating one. An excellent lecturer who maintains a high level of interaction with the audience stimulates thinking and learning.
  6. (informal) Excellent, awesome, cool.

Derived terms[edit]



deadly (comparative more deadly, superlative most deadly)

  1. (obsolete) Fatally, mortally.
  2. In a way which suggests death.
    Her face suddenly became deadly white.
  3. Extremely.
    • (Can we date this quote by Orrery and provide title, author's full name, and other details?)
      deadly weary
    • (Can we date this quote by Arbuthnot and provide title, author's full name, and other details?)
      so deadly cunning a man

Usage notes[edit]

Some adjectives commonly collocating with deadly: serious, clever, good

Derived terms[edit]


Related terms[edit]