Definition of severe in English:

Share this entry


Pronunciation: /sɪˈvɪə/

adjective (severer, severest)

1(Of something bad or undesirable) very great; intense: a severe shortage of technicians a severe attack of asthma the 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, dire, drastic, grievous, extreme, dreadful, terrible, awful, frightful, appalling, sore;
alarming, worrying, distressing, dangerous, perilous, life-threatening;
Medicine  peracute, profound
archaic or humorous parlous
fierce, violent, strong, wild, powerful, forceful, intense;
tempestuous, turbulent, tumultuous
excruciating, agonizing, violent, intense, dreadful, awful, terrible, frightful, unbearable, intolerable, unendurable;
informal splitting, thumping, pounding
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.
2(Of punishment of a person) strict or harsh: the charges would have warranted a severe sentence
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, hard, bitter, bitterly cold, cold, bleak, freezing, icy, arctic, polar, Siberian, extreme, nasty
harsh, scathing, sharp, strong, fierce, ferocious, stringent, savage, blistering, searing, stinging, scorching, devastating, mordant, trenchant, caustic, biting, cutting, withering, rigorous, unsparing;
smart, sound
extortionate, excessive, unreasonable, inordinate, outrageous, sky-high, harsh, stiff;
punitive, punishing, penal;
British  swingeing
strict, stern, rigorous, harsh, hard, inflexible, uncompromising, inexorable, implacable, rigid, unbending, relentless, unrelenting, unyielding, merciless, pitiless, ruthless, draconian, oppressive, repressive, punitive, rough, nasty;
tyrannical, iron-fisted, iron-handed, brutal, inhuman, cruel, savage
Australian/New Zealand informal solid
2.1(Of a person) formal and unsmiling.
Example sentences
  • She was tall and stout with grey hair and a severe expression on her face.
  • His joyfully mysterious grin strangely comforted her because it made him appear gentler, less severe.
stern, dour, grim, grim-faced, forbidding, disapproving, tight-lipped, unsmiling, unfriendly, sombre, grave, sober, serious, austere, stiff, flinty, stony, steely, glowering, frowning;
3Very plain in style or appearance: she wore another severe suit, grey 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, restrained, unadorned, undecorated, unembellished, unornamented, austere, chaste, spare, stark, ultra-plain, unfussy, without frills, spartan, ascetic, monastic, puritanical;


Mid 16th century (in 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

Line breaks: se¦vere

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.