Whether you're talking about a punishment, the weather, or how bad your flu is, severe indicates that it's at the limit of the spectrum.

The austerity of a word like severe serves many purposes. The common usage is to describe tough or painful stuff, like icy snowstorms, merciless punishments, or grim conditions (e.g., a severe depression). If things are severe, they're serious. Severe could also describe a person's haircut if it's brutally short and angular, or their wardrobe if it tends to be all black with no flourishes.

Definitions of severe
  1. adjective
    very harsh or strict, especially when dealing with others
    “"a parent severe to the pitch of hostility"- H.G.Wells”
    “a hefty six-footer with a rather severe mien”
    synonyms: spartan
    nonindulgent, strict
    characterized by strictness, severity, or restraint
  2. adjective
    very strong or vigorous
    “a severe blow”
    synonyms: hard, knockout
    having strength or power greater than average or expected
  3. adjective
    severely simple
    synonyms: austere, stark, stern
    not elaborate or elaborated; simple
  4. adjective
    very bad in degree or extent
    “a severe worldwide depression”
    “the house suffered severe damage”
    having undesirable or negative qualities
  5. adjective
    intensely or extremely bad or unpleasant in degree or quality
    severe pain”
    “a severe case of flu”
    synonyms: terrible, wicked
    possessing or displaying a distinctive feature to a heightened degree
  6. adjective
    causing fear or anxiety by threatening great harm
    “a severe case of pneumonia”
    synonyms: dangerous, grave, grievous, life-threatening, serious
    being in or verging on a state of crisis or emergency
Word Family

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