Definition of severe in English:

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Pronunciation: /səˈvir/

adjective (severer, severest)

1(Of something bad or undesirable) very great; intense: a severe shortage of technicians a severe attack of asthma damage is not too severe
More example sentences
  • Mrs Al-Munchi is believed to have suffered a severe asthma attack earlier in the day.
  • Henry Bartlam was only six weeks old when he suffered a severe asthma attack which nearly killed him.
  • A girl died from a severe asthma attack that may have been triggered by bullying, an inquest heard.
acute, very bad, serious, grave, critical, dreadful, terrible, awful;
dangerous, parlous, life-threatening
formal grievous
fierce, violent, strong, powerful, intense;
tempestuous, turbulent
excruciating, agonizing, intense, dreadful, awful, terrible, unbearable, intolerable
informal splitting, pounding, screaming
1.1Demanding great ability, skill, or resilience: a severe test of stamina
More example sentences
  • Jose Mourinho's managerial skills would face a severe test.
  • The matches, all played in front of crowds in the impressive Hong Kong stadium, combine fast-handling rugby with severe tests of stamina.
  • And Jewell knows he is now facing up to a severe test of his managerial skills as Wigan aim to set off on a winning run.
difficult, demanding, tough, arduous, formidable, exacting, rigorous, punishing, onerous, grueling
2Strict or harsh: the charges would have warranted a severe sentence he is unusually severe on what he regards as tendentious pseudo-learning
More example sentences
  • Certainly, there should be stricter laws and more severe punishments for breaking them, if we want to live in a violence-free society.
  • It was a strict regime and punishments were severe.
  • We bore harsh criticism for our efforts and some of us suffered severe punishment.
harsh, bitter, cold, bleak, freezing, icy, arctic, extreme
informal brutal
harsh, scathing, sharp, strong, fierce, savage, scorching, devastating, trenchant, caustic, biting, withering
extortionate, excessive, unreasonable, inordinate, outrageous, sky-high, harsh, stiff;
harsh, stern, hard, inflexible, uncompromising, unrelenting, merciless, pitiless, ruthless, draconian, oppressive, repressive, punitive;
brutal, cruel, savage
3Very plain in style or appearance: she wore another severe suit, gray this time
More example sentences
  • A girl in a rather severe suit wanted to see his driver's licence as proof of identity.
  • He wears impeccably tailored suits in the traditional, severe Soviet style.
  • As always, his attiring room looked windswept and severe: a plain chest, a narrow mirror, a low divan spread with furs.
plain, simple, austere, unadorned, unembellished, unornamented, stark, spartan, ascetic;
clinical, uncluttered


Mid 16th century (sense 2): from French sévère or Latin severus.

  • This comes from Latin severus ‘strict harsh’ the earliest sense of the word in English. The sense ‘sober, austerely plain’ (severe dress) dates from the mid 17th century; the first example of severe weather dates from the late 17th century.

Words that rhyme with severe

adhere, Agadir, Anglosphere, appear, arrear, auctioneer, austere, balladeer, bandolier, Bashkir, beer, besmear, bier, blear, bombardier, brigadier, buccaneer, cameleer, career, cashier, cavalier, chandelier, charioteer, cheer, chevalier, chiffonier, clavier, clear, Coetzee, cohere, commandeer, conventioneer, Cordelier, corsetière, Crimea, dear, deer, diarrhoea (US diarrhea), domineer, Dorothea, drear, ear, electioneer, emir, endear, engineer, fear, fleer, Freer, fusilier, gadgeteer, Galatea, gazetteer, gear, gondolier, gonorrhoea (US gonorrhea), Greer, grenadier, hand-rear, hear, here, Hosea, idea, interfere, Izmir, jeer, Judaea, Kashmir, Keir, kir, Korea, Lear, leer, Maria, marketeer, Medea, Meir, Melilla, mere, Mia, Mir, mishear, mountaineer, muleteer, musketeer, mutineer, near, orienteer, pamphleteer, panacea, paneer, peer, persevere, pier, Pierre, pioneer, pistoleer, privateer, profiteer, puppeteer, racketeer, ratafia, rear, revere, rhea, rocketeer, Sapir, scrutineer, sear, seer, sere, Shamir, shear, sheer, sincere, smear, sneer, sonneteer, souvenir, spear, sphere, steer, stere, summiteer, Tangier, tear, tier, Trier, Tyr, veer, veneer, Vere, Vermeer, vizier, volunteer, Wear, weir, we're, year, Zaïre

For editors and proofreaders

Syllabification: se·vere

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