Definition of fumble in English:

Share this entry


Pronunciation: /ˈfʌmb(ə)l/


[no object, with adverbial]
1Do or handle something clumsily: she fumbled with the lock
More example sentences
  • He reached his door and pulled out his key and fumbled with the lock.
  • ‘I should have put more planning into my plan’ said Mauritania as Jess tried fumbled with keys in the infinite number of locks on the door.
  • Sharai grinned upon seeing me run out the door before, absentminded as I am; I ran back and fumbled with my keys to lock the door.
grope, feel about, search blindly, scrabble around, muddle around;
fish, delve, cast about/around/round for
archaic grabble for
1.1 (fumble about/around) Move clumsily in various directions using the hands to find one’s way: he fumbled about in the dark but could not find her
More example sentences
  • Clumsily fumbling around in his personal possessions with fingers which had fallen half-asleep, the emissary produced a neatly rolled-up paper and handed it over to the scaly hand before him.
  • Clumsily, he fumbled around for tissues, but couldn't find any.
  • She clumsily opened her book and fumbled around for her pen.
stumble, blunder, flounder, lumber, bumble, stagger, totter, lurch, move clumsily, move awkwardly;
feel one's way, grope one's way
1.2 [with object and adverbial] Use the hands clumsily to move (something) as specified: she fumbled a cigarette from her bag
More example sentences
  • The street light gag, fumbling the cigarettes?
  • After returning from the airport, having said goodbye, I sat on the verandah and looked out at the night, fumbling a cigarette, its fire the only bright spot.
  • ‘Whatever,’ he mumbled, fumbling his pockets for his keys.
1.3 [with object] (In ball games) fail to catch or field (the ball) cleanly: have you ever seen him fumble a ball? [no object]: the keeper fumbled
More example sentences
  • The Crigglestone fullback fumbled the ball allowing Neil Kennedy and Ian Barnes to get their hands on the ball at the same time just before the ball went dead.
  • Cody was much less productive, fumbling the ball at crucial times and finding his way into coach Dave McGinnis' doghouse.
  • Instead, Curry fumbles the ball slightly, blowing the chance for a dunk.
fail to catch, miss, drop, mishandle, handle awkwardly;
1.4Express oneself or deal with something clumsily or nervously: Michael had fumbled for words
More example sentences
  • Mimi nervously tugged at her shirt, and fumbled for words.
  • I began fumbling for words to say in response, still struggling to get over the fact that Tristan was, indeed, a Gypsy.
  • We, fumbling for words of love, remember the rockets the spinning wheels, the sudden diamonds and say with delight ‘Yes, like that, like that’
botch, bungle, mismanage, mishandle, spoil;
blunder, make a mistake
informal make a mess of, make a hash of, fluff, muff, screw up, foul up, blow, louse up
British informal make a pig's ear of, make a muck of, cock up
North American informal flub


[usually in singular]
1An act of doing or handling something clumsily: just one fumble during a tyre change could separate the winners from the losers
More example sentences
  • Yeah, the instructions make it so simple that even a child can go through it confidently, without a falter nor a fumble.
1.1 informal An act of fondling someone for sexual pleasure: a quick fumble in a downtown tavern
More example sentences
  • Finally, have sex when you're awake, not just at the end of the day when it's a quick fumble before you fall asleep.
  • She gets two more drinks and a quick fumble with the hunky policeman, who apologises for his insensitivity to the subtleties of the evidence.
  • We then proceeded to snog, fumble, grope and rub, until her friends pulled her off onto the dancefloor.
fondle, grope, caress, hug, embrace, cuddle
informal feel-up
1.2(In ball games) an act of failing to catch or field the ball cleanly: he recovered a fumble after a bad exchange
More example sentences
  • He registered eight tackles, had two sacks, recovered a fumble and blocked a field goal - all despite being blocked most of the game by a tackle and tight end.
  • He registered two sacks, blocked a field goal and recovered a fumble.
  • Culpepper made two critical mistakes - a fumble on the goal line and, to a lesser extent, the game-ending interception.
slip, miss, drop, mishandling;
mistake, error, gaffe, fault, botch
informal slip-up, clanger, boob, boo-boo, howler, foul-up, fail
British informal cock-up
1.3An act of managing or dealing with something clumsily: we are not talking about subtle errors of judgement, but major fumbles
More example sentences
  • I made a major fumble last night in modifying the journal files and creating a new one for the day's new entry.



Example sentences
  • This comedy of manners evokes a matriarchal world where the men are often fumblers, their dignity taken from them in a biased culture, or thugs who try to take what they want by force.
  • Well, the translator of this 1672 edition disagrees with most other fumblers who have attempted to bring meaning to this series of hoaxes.
  • True, some of it is pretty bad, but even the fumblers among us don't deserve that adjective…


Late Middle English: from Low German fommeln or Dutch fommelen.

Words that rhyme with fumble

bumble, crumble, grumble, humble, jumble, mumble, rough-and-tumble, rumble, scumble, stumble, tumble, umbel

For editors and proofreaders

Line breaks: fum¦ble

Share this entry

What do you find interesting about this word or phrase?

Comments that don't adhere to our Community Guidelines may be moderated or removed.