Definition of foul in English:

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Pronunciation: /faʊl/


1Offensive to the senses, especially through having a disgusting smell or taste or being dirty: a foul odour his foul breath
More example sentences
  • They began hobbling towards the car, Leanne almost crumbling under the weight and the disgusting, foul smell of alcohol.
  • He pulled me close to his face, so close that I could smell his foul breath.
  • He came so close to her she could smell his foul breath, and she turned her head away.
disgusting, revolting, repellent, repulsive, repugnant, abhorrent, loathsome, offensive, detestable, awful, dreadful, horrible, terrible, horrendous, hideous, appalling, atrocious, vile, abominable, frightful, sickening, nauseating, nauseous, stomach-churning, stomach-turning, off-putting, uninviting, unpalatable, unappetizing, unsavoury, distasteful, nasty, obnoxious, objectionable, odious;
noxious, evil-smelling, foul-smelling, smelly, stinking, high, rank, rancid, fetid, malodorous;
North American  vomitous
informal ghastly, horrid, gruesome, God-awful, gross, diabolical, putrid, yucky, icky, grotty, sick-making, gut-churning
British informal beastly, whiffy, pongy, niffy
North American informal lousy, skanky, funky
Australian informal on the nose
literary noisome, mephitic
archaic disgustful, loathly
rare miasmic, miasmal, olid
dirty, filthy, mucky, grimy, grubby, stained, dirt-encrusted, muddy, muddied, unclean, unwashed;
squalid, sordid, shabby, sleazy, nasty, soiled, sullied, scummy;
rotten, defiled, decaying, putrid, putrefied, smelly, fetid
informal cruddy, yucky, icky
British informal manky, gungy, grotty
literary befouled, besmirched, begrimed
rare feculent
1.1 informal Very disagreeable or unpleasant: the news had put Michelle in a foul mood
More example sentences
  • ‘OK, sorry,’ Leanne said, taken aback by Rob's uncharacteristically foul mood.
  • Never mind me, I'm just in a foul mood after today's work.
  • The 72-year-old R&B legend is in one of his famous foul moods.
unkind, unfriendly, disagreeable, inconsiderate, uncharitable, rude, churlish, spiteful, malicious, mean, mean-spirited, ill-tempered, ill-natured, ill-humoured, bad-tempered, hostile, vicious, malevolent, evil-minded, surly, obnoxious, poisonous, venomous, vindictive, malign, malignant, cantankerous, hateful, hurtful, cruel, wounding, abusive
informal bitchy, catty
vulgar slang shitty
2Wicked or immoral: murder most foul
More example sentences
  • In the popular consciousness, however, paganism and witchcraft have come to be associated with black magic, foul deeds, even devil-worship.
  • There is a case of murder involved here - and a foul murder, at that - by a person who had a modus operandi that has been known to the police now for years.
  • The phantom king begs Hamlet to avenge his foul murder.
2.1(Of language) obscene: foul oaths foul language
More example sentences
  • The language is foul (no surprise), and they have been seen urinating in front gardens.
  • However, your language is exceedingly foul for someone in your position.
  • Don't be distracted by my foul vocabulary or by your own frustration.
vulgar, obscene, profane, blasphemous, gross, coarse, crude, filthy, dirty, indecent, indelicate, suggestive, smutty, off colour, low, lewd, ribald, salacious, scatological, offensive, abusive
informal blue
2.2Done contrary to the rules of a sport: a foul tackle
More example sentences
  • In the first 20 minutes Knowles put his side into a 2-0 lead with two superb lobbed goals, but was later dismissed following a foul tackle.
  • All I can say is that I'll certainly be expecting my men to get stuck in and it's up to the referee after that to decide what s a fair tackle and what s a foul tackle.
  • Therefore, the proportion of foul tackles equates to the likelihood of player error occurring during the execution of a tackle.
3Containing or full of noxious matter; polluted: foul, swampy water
More example sentences
  • Most of these tasks were in the pipeline anyway as part of Beijing's plan to modernise its outdated infrastructure and clean up its notoriously foul air.
  • In 1285 London's air was so foul that King Edward I set up an air pollution commission, which banned the use of coal.
  • In the 19th century refuse, waste, water and foul water were just dumped in the streets, resulting in widespread disease.
contaminated, polluted, adulterated, infected, tainted, defiled, impure, filthy, dirty, unclean
rare feculent
3.1 (foul with) Clogged or choked with: the land was foul with weeds
More example sentences
  • She was glad not to be able to see much of the place, foul with seeping water and fungus, a chamber of old horrors where prisoners hunched under the vaults of cold stone like monstrous white insects, wingless and half-blind.
  • Wheat is an exhausting crop, which requires land in good heart, whilst if grown continuously, or too frequently, disease often becomes serious, and, most important of all, the land becomes very foul with weeds.
3.2 Nautical (Of a rope or anchor) entangled.
3.3(Of a ship’s bottom) overgrown with weed, barnacles, or similar matter.
4(Of the weather) wet and stormy: he walked in fair and foul weather the weather turned foul
More example sentences
  • The new building will have improved facilities, ensuring it remains a welcome retreat for ramblers, particularly after climbing Mount Snowdon in foul weather.
  • Meanwhile, while the Irish and their neighbours in Britain may bemoan the foul weather, spare a thought for residents along the east coast of the USA.
  • The situation is worse when the weather is foul.
inclement, unpleasant, disagreeable, dirty, nasty, rough, bad;
stormy, squally, gusty, windy, blustery, blowy, wild, rainy, wet;
foggy, misty, gloomy, murky, overcast, louring
4.1 Sailing (Of wind or tide) opposed to one’s desired course: it sometimes becomes advantageous to anchor during the periods of foul tide
More example sentences
  • This is nearly twice the power usually found on boats this size and provides lots of power for punching through chop and motoring against foul winds and currents.
  • Nicolson, a successful writer but somewhat inexperienced sailor, teams up with an old salt and buddy George Fairhurst, who continually bails them out of near calamities - foul currents, fierce tides, raging winds and equipment failures.


1(In sport) an unfair or invalid stroke or piece of play, especially one involving interference with an opponent: the midfielder was booked for a foul on Ford
More example sentences
  • It was a tough time for the French and Silvestre, having already been booked for a foul on Gillespie, just couldn't contain the winger in the 69th minute.
  • He even had the ball in the net, but was booked for a foul on the goalkeeper.
  • World Cup referees yesterday vowed to crack down on players who orchestrate and feign fouls to get opponents in trouble.
unfair, against the rules, illegal, unsporting, unsportsmanlike, below the belt, dirty, dishonourable, dishonest, underhand, unscrupulous, unjust, unprincipled, immoral, crooked, fraudulent
informal shady
1.1A collision or entanglement in riding, rowing, or running.
Example sentences
  • With a personal best of 6.68m from earlier in the season, she surprisingly had fouls on her first two efforts and waited long on the runway as she composed herself for her last attempt.


Contrary to the rules; unfairly.
Example sentences
  • That's the real problem: even guys who want to play fair are under pressure from cheaters to play foul.
  • Italian editors shrieked that the Austrian team had ‘played foul’.
  • So that if you're knowingly taking advantage of people with a disadvantage, then you're coming foul of the Trade Practices Act.


[with object]
1Make foul or dirty; pollute: factories which fouled the atmosphere
More example sentences
  • Its design is outdated and inappropriate; its size, looks, and four-wheel drive bring out the worst in drivers; it clogs streets and fouls the air.
  • At rush hour the streets are plugged with cars producing vast quantities of toxic gases that foul the air.
  • Moreover, our dependency on coal to generate energy not only fouls our air, but poisons our fish with mercury.
dirty, soil, stain, blacken, muddy, begrime, splash, spatter, smear, befoul, besmirch, blight, defile, make filthy, infect, pollute, contaminate, poison, taint, adulterate, sully
literary besmear
1.1(Of an animal) make (something) dirty with excrement: make sure that your pet never fouls paths
More example sentences
  • The land is now being used by the football and rounders club, whose members want to stop dogs fouling the pitch and youngsters riding motorcycles across it.
  • It was also pointed out that a fence was necessary to stop cattle from getting onto the boat club land and to stop dogs fouling pasture meant for silage.
  • Concerned residents of the heritage town of Abbeyleix are surprised that there are a few dog owners who look the other way when their pets foul the footpaths and other public places.
1.2 (foul oneself) (Of a person) defecate involuntarily.
Example sentences
  • Nervous of legal action from passengers humiliated by fouling themselves in their seats, most carriers allowed crew to decide whether the person requesting admission to the smallest part of the plane was desperate or a desperado.
  • Now and then, she fouled herself or wet herself.
  • They described ‘torture techniques’ and claimed that detainees had been forced into painful positions for 18 to 24 hours at a time or left to foul themselves.
2(In sport) commit a foul against (an opponent): United claim their keeper was fouled
More example sentences
  • The keeper fouled his opponent but avoided a red card.
  • Portlaw did have claims for a penalty turned down late on when it seemed keeper Wayne English had fouled a Portlaw player in the area but referee Martin Halley waved play on.
  • The Town keeper Darren O'Grady was obviously fouled as he went to catch a high punt with Gary Smyth tucking the loose ball into the unguarded net.
3(Of a ship) collide with or interfere with the passage of (another): the ships became overcrowded and fouled each other
More example sentences
  • In The Edison [1933] AC 449, the appellants, whose vessel had been fouled by the respondents, claimed damages under various heads.
3.1Cause (a cable, anchor, or other object) to become entangled or jammed: watch out for driftwood which might foul up the engine
More example sentences
  • It is apparent that the wreck has been cleared to below deck level, with some additional damage to the starboard side of the hull, perhaps a consequence of the Silver Harvest fouling its anchor on the wreck in 1998.
  • The Stromness lifeboat attended the fishing vessel Arkhangel at 4pm on Saturday after the vessel fouled her propeller 20 miles off Noup Head in Westray.
  • Stromness lifeboat was called out at the weekend after a Scrasbter fishing boat fouled her propeller in severe weather conditions.
tangle up, entangle, snarl, catch, entwine, enmesh, twist, tangle


foul one's (own) nest

Do something damaging or harmful to oneself or one’s own interests: we seem to have fouled our own nest, running up huge debts and deficits
More example sentences
  • Yet consistently, with appalling regularity and style, he has displayed an equivalent capacity to foul his own nest, plucking frequent disasters from the jaws of personal victory.
  • Do these other magazines understand that by painting a dark and distorted picture of the bodybuilding world, they are fouling their own nest, shooting themselves in the foot by undermining their own future?
  • Of course, this romantic observation occurs in an essay called ‘Murder in the Kitchen,’ in which Watts also writes that by ‘destroying our environment and fouling our own nest… the world around us looks as if we hated it.’

Phrasal verbs

foul something up (or foul up)

Make a mistake with or spoil something: leaders should admit when they foul things up
More example sentences
  • ‘Here was an ideal opportunity for Yorkshire to have done something positive and they have gone and fouled it up,’ he said.
  • We're just another species - the dominant species, maybe, and the one who's doing the most to foul things up for all the rest, but surely we're flattering ourselves if we think that we are somehow essential to the operation of this planet.
  • Although it's a relatively easy daily task, reduced with usage to a routine I can accomplish in a couple of minutes, running on auto-pilot, it takes no more than the click of a wrong button in the text editor to foul things up.



Pronunciation: /ˈfaʊlli/
Example sentences
  • The Richard III Society remains firmly convinced that Richard III was foully traduced by revisionists like William Shakespeare and other Tudor dynasty hagiographers.
  • A feminist wore pants, smoked, drank, spoke foully, flaunted her promiscuity; in short she did everything those men had done and got away with for centuries.
  • Tuesday was quiet, but at the Wednesday 2 a.m. break, the entire staff heard Olag curse, foully and for long minutes.


Pronunciation: /ˈfaʊlnəs/
Example sentences
  • Despite all the diseases they carry, the nuisance they make of themselves and their general foulness, I'm actually quite fond of these little rats.
  • I couldn't run, or even move, for fear that the watery goop covering the floor would splash up and cover me with its oozing foulness.
  • But for the sheer foulness of the atmosphere, you'd have to go some to beat Soho after about 11 at night - chucking out time.


Old English fūl, of Germanic origin; related to Old Norse fúll 'foul', Dutch vuil 'dirty', and German faul 'rotten, lazy', from an Indo-European root shared by Latin pus, Greek puos 'pus', and Latin putere 'to stink'.

  • The Old English word foul comes from an ancient root shared by Latin pus (adopted into late Middle English) Latin putere ‘to stink’ (source of LME putrid), and the original sense was ‘stinking or disgusting’. Foul play indicating unfair conduct or treachery is recorded from the late 16th century, and sports players have been able to complain of ‘a foul’ since the 1750s. See also fair

Words that rhyme with foul

afoul, befoul, cowl, fowl, growl, howl, jowl, owl, prowl, Rabaul, scowl, yowl

For editors and proofreaders

Line breaks: foul

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