1. such as to cause fright; dreadful, terrible, or alarming: A frightful howl woke us.
  2. horrible, shocking, or revolting: The storm did frightful damage.
  3. Informal. unpleasant; disagreeable: We had a frightful time.
  4. Informal. very great; extreme: That actor is very talented but a frightful ham.


  1. very alarming, distressing, or horrifying
  2. unpleasant, annoying, or extremea frightful hurry

mid-13c., “timid;” c.1600 “alarming;” from fright + -ful. In common with most -ful adjectives, it once had both an active and passive sense. Meaning “dreadful, horrible, shocking” (often hyperbolic) is attested from c.1700; Johnson noted it as “a cant word among women for anything unpleasing.” Related: Frightfully.

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