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Alternative forms[edit]


From Middle English dredful, dredfull, dredeful (also dreful), equivalent to dread +‎ -ful.


  • (file)
  • IPA(key): /ˈdɹɛd.fʊl/


dreadful (comparative more dreadful, superlative most dreadful)

  1. Full of something causing dread, whether
    1. Genuinely horrific, awful, or alarming; dangerous, risky.
    2. (hyperbolic) Unpleasant, awful, very bad (also used as an intensifier).
      • 1682, T. Creech's translation of Lucretius, De Natura Rerum, Book II, 52:
        Here some... Look dreadful gay in their own sparkling blood.
      • 1918, W[illiam] B[abington] Maxwell, chapter XVII, in The Mirror and the Lamp, Indianapolis, Ind.: The Bobbs-Merrill Company, →OCLC:
        This time was most dreadful for Lilian. Thrown on her own resources and almost penniless, she maintained herself and paid the rent of a wretched room near the hospital by working as a charwoman, sempstress, anything.
      • 2011 December 10, Marc Higginson, “Bolton 1-2 Aston Villa”, in BBC Sport:
        After a dreadful performance in the opening 45 minutes, they upped their game after the break...
    3. (obsolete) Awesome, awe-inspiring, causing feelings of reverence.
  2. (obsolete) Full of dread, whether
    1. Scared, afraid, frightened.
    2. Timid, easily frightened.
    3. Reverential, full of pious awe.


dreadful (comparative more dreadful, superlative most dreadful)

  1. (informal) Dreadfully.
    • 2003, David Davis, Of Preachers and Pagans, page 199:
      I'm sorry, Miz Terrigan. I'm dreadful sorry.
    • 2007, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Professor At The Breakfast Table, page 130:
      You don't look so dreadful poor in the face as you did a while back.
    • 2015, Hesba Stretton, Jessica's first prayer: A Christian Fiction of Hesba Stretton:
      "No," she replied, coolly, "and I shall want my dinner dreadful bad afore I get it, I know. You don't often feel dreadful hungry, do you, sir?

Usage notes[edit]

The senses of "dreadful" synonymous with "afraid" similarly use the infinitive or the preposition "of": they were dreadful to build or the boy was dreadful of his majesty. These senses are, however, now obsolete.

When used as an intensifier, "dreadful" is actually a form of the adverb "dreadfully" and thus considered informal or vulgar.


Derived terms[edit]



dreadful (plural dreadfuls)

  1. A shocker: a report of a crime written in a provokingly lurid style.
  2. A journal or broadsheet printing such reports.
  3. A shocking or sensational crime.

Derived terms[edit]

Further reading[edit]