Describe something that is exceptionally bad as awful, but be careful: Saying your mom's cooking is awful may be truthful, but it's also likely to get you a frying pan upside the head.

In addition to meaning exceptionally bad, the adjective awful can also mean exceedingly large or extreme in degree. That new car costs an awful lot of money, for example. Perhaps you should think about a bus pass or bicycle instead! As an adverb, awful is used as an intensifier, meaning very. As in, "It's taking you an awful long time to finish that paper. Stop procrastinating."

Definitions of awful
  1. adjective
    exceptionally bad or displeasing
    “an awful voice”
    synonyms: abominable, abysmal, atrocious, dreadful, painful, terrible, unspeakable, vile
    having undesirable or negative qualities
  2. adjective
    offensive or even (of persons) malicious
    synonyms: nasty
    dirty, filthy, lousy
    vile; despicable
    very unpleasant or offensive
    hateful, mean
    characterized by malice
    disagreeable to the senses, to the mind, or feelings
    see moresee less
    pleasant or pleasing or agreeable in nature or appearance
    agreeable or pleasing
    (of persons) having pleasing manners or behavior
    affording pleasure; being in harmony with your taste or likings
    show more antonyms...
  3. adjective
    causing fear or dread or terror
    “the awful war”
    “an awful risk”
    synonyms: dire, direful, dread, dreaded, dreadful, fearful, fearsome, frightening, horrendous, horrific, terrible
    frightening because of an awareness of danger
  4. adjective
    extreme in degree or extent or amount or impact
    synonyms: frightful, terrible, tremendous
    beyond what is ordinary or usual; highly unusual or exceptional or remarkable
  5. adverb
    used as intensifiers
    “I'm awful sorry”
    synonyms: awfully, frightfully, terribly
  6. adjective
    inspiring awe or admiration or wonder
    “"this sea, whose gently awful stirrings seem to speak of some hidden soul beneath"- Melville”
    synonyms: amazing, awe-inspiring, awesome, awing
    making a strong or vivid impression
  7. adjective
    inspired by a feeling of fearful wonderment or reverence
    awful worshippers with bowed heads”
    synonyms: awed
    feeling or showing profound respect or veneration
Word Family

Test prep from the experts

Boost your test score with programs developed by’s experts.

  • Proven methods: Learn faster, remember longer with our scientific approach.
  • Personalized plan: We customize your experience to maximize your learning.
  • Strategic studying: Focus on the words that are most crucial for success.


  • Number of words: 500+
  • Duration: 8 weeks or less
  • Time: 1 hour / week


  • Number of words: 500+
  • Duration: 10 weeks or less
  • Time: 1 hour / week