Definition of terrible in English:

Share this entry


Pronunciation: /ˈtɛrɪb(ə)l/


1Extremely bad or serious: a terrible crime the terrible conditions in which the ordinary people lived
More example sentences
  • Instead, he thought about Whitney, worried that she was in pain or that terrible things were happening to her.
  • We can see a poor man in terrible trouble yet fail to help him.
  • There, amid the danger and terrible conditions, he found a new sense of purpose.
dreadful, awful, appalling, horrific, horrifying, horrible, horrendous, atrocious, abominable, abhorrent, frightful, fearful, shocking, hideous, ghastly, grim, dire, hateful, unspeakable, gruesome, monstrous, sickening, heinous, vile;
serious, grave, acute, desperate, grievous, distressing, lamentable
rare egregious
severe, extreme, intense, excruciating, agonizing, unbearable, intolerable, unendurable, insufferable
very bad, dreadful, awful, frightful, atrocious, hopeless, poor, inadequate, inferior, unsatisfactory, laughable, substandard
informal crummy, pathetic, pitiful, useless, lousy, appalling, abysmal, dire
British informal duff, chronic, poxy, rubbish, pants, a load of pants
North American vulgar slang chickenshit
1.1Extremely unpleasant or disagreeable: the weather was terrible
More example sentences
  • ‘This film features the character as a terrible and unpleasant person,’ Roth said adding that he regards himself as an angry man.
  • In return, Jamie shuddered that it had been a ‘horrible, terrible film!’
  • Do you fear it getting to the administration at all, or do you think this is just a horrible, terrible business scandal?
nasty, disgusting, very unpleasant, awful, dreadful, ghastly, horrid, horrible, vile, foul, abominable, frightful, loathsome, revolting, repulsive, odious, sickening, nauseating, nauseous, repellent, repugnant, horrendous, hideous, appalling, offensive, objectionable, obnoxious;
noxious, evil-smelling, foul-smelling, smelly, stinking, rank, rancid, fetid, malodorous, acrid
informal gruesome, putrid, diabolical, yucky, sick-making, God-awful, gross, from hell, icky, stinky
British informal beastly, grotty, whiffy, pongy, niffy
Northern Irish informal bogging
North American informal hellacious, lousy, skanky, funky
Australian informal on the nose
literary noisome, mephitic
archaic disgustful, loathly
rare miasmal, olid
unkind, nasty, unpleasant, foul, obnoxious, vile, contemptible, despicable, wretched, shabby;
spiteful, mean, malicious, poisonous, mean-spirited, cruel, hateful, hurtful;
unfair, uncharitable, uncalled for, below the belt, unacceptable, unwarranted
informal dirty, filthy, dirty rotten, low-down, beastly, off
British informal out of order
vulgar slang shitty
1.2Very unskilful: despite passing my driving test first time, I’m a terrible driver I was terrible at basketball
More example sentences
  • I was never athletic, and I'm terrible at managing anger.
  • I love singing but I'm terrible at it, but that won't stop me!
  • Most of them are terrible at graphic design, and often see its deployment as an unwelcome imposition on their aesthetic vision.
1.3 [attributive] informal Used to emphasize the extent of something unpleasant or bad: what a terrible mess
More example sentences
  • Why would he be selfish enough to kill himself and leave poor Delia with this terrible burden?
  • His fiancée was accidentally drowned on the very eve of their wedding and Joseph Scriven was plunged into terrible sorrow.
  • For it was only when that shocked medics were able to examine the X-Rays that they were able to judge the full extent of his terrible injury.
incorrigible, outrageous, great, extreme;
real, awful, dreadful, frightful, shocking
informal impossible, fearful
British informal right, proper
1.4Very unwell or troubled: I was sick all night and felt terrible for two days
More example sentences
  • Only it was, and now you feel terrible, downright sick to the bottom of your stomach, and the look on Noah's face makes you instantly regret your decision to tell him.
  • I paused before answering, feeling terrible and sick to my stomach.
  • When someone approached and joked that he looked terrible, he smiled.
ill, unwell, poorly, bad, indisposed, sick, queasy, nauseous, nauseated, peaky, liverish, out of sorts, green about the gills;
faint, dizzy, giddy, light-headed;
British  off, off colour
informal under the weather, rough, lousy, awful, dreadful, crummy
British informal grotty, ropy
Scottish informal wabbit, peely-wally
Australian/New Zealand informal crook
vulgar slang crappy
dated queer, seedy
rare peaked, peakish
guilty, conscience-stricken, remorseful, guilt-ridden, ashamed, chastened, contrite, sorry, full of regret, regretful, repentant, penitent, shamefaced, self-reproachful, apologetic
2Causing or likely to cause terror; sinister: the stranger gave a terrible smile
More example sentences
  • Yet we knew a terrible secret far more sinister than Ray Martin's wig or the little green men at Roswell.
  • Shuto screamed an ancient battle cry and charged into the night, the only light in the dark the sinister eyes of his terrible adversaries.
  • She turned to Wolf with a terrible little smile.


terrible twos

informal A period in a child’s social development (typically around the age of two years) which is associated with very defiant or unruly behaviour.
Example sentences
  • Initially, the couple put his behaviour down to the "terrible twos" syndrome.
  • She never went through the "terrible twos."
  • This year's programmes explore the world of the " terrible twos ".



Pronunciation: /ˈtɛrɪb(ə)lnəs/
Example sentences
  • We have to see the reason behind the coercion, to experience the terribleness in the threat, before we, too, feel its presence.
  • The harsh, methodical thrash of '80s-style death-metal, and annoying and heavy vocal stylings, do nothing to save this album from total terribleness.
  • The terribleness of The Night Larry Kramer Kissed Me as a film is kind of too bad, because the biography here, the story, the real wit and spirit of the writing, deserves a wide audience.


Late Middle English (in the sense 'causing terror'): via French from Latin terribilis, from terrere 'frighten'.

  • terror from Late Middle English:

    Like terrible (Late Middle English), terror comes from Latin terrere ‘to frighten’ and goes back to medieval times. The Terror was the period of the French Revolution, from about March 1793 to July 1794, marked by extreme repression and bloodshed. The expression reign of terror, which may now be applied to any brutal exercise of power, was originally coined to describe this time. Terrorist also has links with this period, as the word was originally used to describe the Jacobins, the revolutionary group who were responsible for the repression and executions of the Terror. Terrible once meant ‘causing terror or awe’, a meaning reflected in the name of the feared 16th-century tsar of Russia Ivan the Terrible. The weakened sense ‘very bad, appalling’ gradually evolved from the start of the 17th century. Today parents talk of the terrible twos, a period in a child's development around the age of two that often involves defiant or challenging behaviour. The term is first found in the title of a film produced in 1950 for the Department of National Health and Welfare in Canada, called The Terrible Twos and the Trusting Threes.

For editors and proofreaders

Line breaks: ter|rible

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.