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Alternative forms[edit]


From Middle English dredful etc. and dreful, equivalent to dread +‎ -ful.


  • (file)
  • IPA(key): /ˈdɹɛd.fʊl/


dreadful (comparative more dreadful, superlative most dreadful)

  1. (obsolete) Full of dread, whether
    1. Scared, afraid, frightened.
    2. Timid, easily frightened.
    3. Reverential, full of pious awe.
  2. 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.

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.




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.