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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. B. Maxwell, chapter 17, in The Mirror and the Lamp:
        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.

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]


  • Oxford English Dictionary, "dreadful, adj., adv., and n.", 1897.