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See also: Foul



Part or all of this entry has been imported from the 1913 edition of Webster’s Dictionary, which is now free of copyright and hence in the public domain. The imported definitions may be significantly out of date, and any more recent senses may be completely missing.
(See the entry for foul in
Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary, G. & C. Merriam, 1913.)


Etymology 1Edit

From Middle English foul, from Old English fūl (foul, unclean, impure, vile, corrupt, rotten, guilty), from Proto-Germanic *fūlaz (foul, rotten), from Proto-Indo-European *puH- (to rot). Cognate with Dutch vuil (foul), German faul (rotten, putrid), Danish and Swedish ful (foul), and through Indo-European, with Albanian fëlliq (filth, dirt), Latin puter (rotten). More at putrid.

Ancient Greek φαῦλος (phaûlos, bad) is a false cognate inasmuch as it is not from the same etymon; it is, however, remotely related.


foul (comparative fouler, superlative foulest)

  1. Covered with, or containing unclean matter; dirty.
    • 2013 June 29, “Unspontaneous combustion”, in The Economist, volume 407, number 8842, page 29:
      Since the mid-1980s, when Indonesia first began to clear its bountiful forests on an industrial scale in favour of lucrative palm-oil plantations, “haze” has become an almost annual occurrence in South-East Asia. The cheapest way to clear logged woodland is to burn it, producing an acrid cloud of foul white smoke that, carried by the wind, can cover hundreds, or even thousands, of square miles.
    This cloth is too foul to use as a duster.
    His foul hands got dirt all over the kitchen.
    The air was so foul nobody could breathe.
    A ship's bottom is foul when overgrown with barnacles
    A well is foul with polluted water.
  2. (of words or a way of speaking) obscene, vulgar or abusive.
    The rascal spewed forth a series of foul words.
    His foul language causes many people to believe he is uneducated.
  3. Detestable, unpleasant.
    He has a foul set of friends.
    • Milton
      Who first seduced them to that foul revolt?
  4. Disgusting, repulsive; causing disgust.
    This foul food is making me retch.
    There was a foul smell coming from the toilet.
  5. (obsolete) Ugly; homely; poor.
    • Shakespeare
      Let us, like merchants, show our foulest wares.
  6. (of the weather) Unpleasant, stormy or rainy.
    Some foul weather is brewing.
    • Shakespeare
      So foul a sky clears not without a storm.
  7. Dishonest or not conforming to the established rules and customs of a game, conflict, test, etc.
    Foul play is not suspected.
  8. (nautical) Entangled and therefore restricting free movement, not clear.
    We've got a foul anchor.
    a rope could get foul while paying it out.
  9. (baseball) Outside of the base lines; in foul territory.
    Jones hit foul ball after foul ball.
Usage notesEdit
  • Nouns to which "foul" is often applied: play, ball, language, breath, smell, odor, water, weather, deed.
Derived termsEdit
The translations below need to be checked and inserted above into the appropriate translation tables, removing any numbers. Numbers do not necessarily match those in definitions. See instructions at Wiktionary:Entry layout#Translations.

Etymology 2Edit

From Middle English foulen, fulen, from Old English fūlian (to become foul; rot; decay), from Proto-Germanic *fūlijaną (to rot; decay). Cognate with German Low German fulen (to rot; decay), German faulen (to rot; decay).


foul (third-person singular simple present fouls, present participle fouling, simple past and past participle fouled)

  1. (transitive) To make dirty.
    to foul the face or hands with mire
    She's fouled her diaper.
  2. (transitive) To besmirch.
    He's fouled his reputation.
  3. (transitive) To clog or obstruct.
    The hair has fouled the drain.
  4. (transitive, nautical) To entangle.
    • 1941, Emily Carr, Klee Wyck, Chapter 18, [1]
      The Indian's heart was sore for his boat; it looked as if nothing could save her. She was drifting more slowly now, her propeller fouled in kelp.
    The kelp has fouled the prop.
  5. (transitive, basketball) To make contact with an opposing player in order to gain advantage.
    Smith fouled him hard.
  6. (transitive, baseball) To hit outside of the baselines.
    Jones fouled the ball off the facing of the upper deck.
  7. (intransitive) To become clogged.
    The drain fouled.
  8. (intransitive) To become entangled.
    The prop fouled on the kelp.
  9. (intransitive, basketball) To commit a foul.
    Smith fouled within the first minute of the quarter.
  10. (intransitive, baseball) To hit a ball outside of the baselines.
    Jones fouled for strike one.
Derived termsEdit


foul (plural fouls)

  1. (sports) A breach of the rules of a game, especially one involving inappropriate contact with an opposing player in order to gain an advantage; for example, tripping someone up in soccer, or contact of any kind in basketball.
    • 2011 December 10, Arindam Rej, “Norwich 4 - 2 Newcastle”, in BBC Sport[2]:
      A second Norwich goal in four minutes arrived after some dire Newcastle defending. Gosling gave the ball away with a sloppy back-pass, allowing Crofts to curl in a cross that the unmarked Morison powered in with a firm, 12-yard header.
      Gosling's plight worsened when he was soon shown a red card for a foul on Martin.
  2. (bowling) A (usually accidental) contact between a bowler and the lane before the bowler has released the ball.
  3. (baseball) A foul ball, a ball which has been hit outside of the base lines.
    Jones hit a foul up over the screen.

Further readingEdit





  1. Imperative singular of foulen.
  2. (colloquial) First-person singular present of foulen.