Intermediate+ Word of the Day: feeble

feeble (adjective) /ˈfibəl/ LISTEN

Being ill can make you feeble.

Feeble is an adjective that means ‘physically weak or frail,’ because of age or sickness, for example. It also means ‘morally or intellectually weak.’ If you use it to talk about a sound, feeble means ‘lacking volume or loudness’ and when you are talking about a light it means ‘lacking brightness.’ Figuratively, feeble also means ‘lacking strength, substance, or effectiveness.’

Example sentences

  • The patient was still feeble after her illness.
  • The feeble old man moved with difficulty.
  • Ideas like these can only be the product of a feeble mind.
  • We heard some feeble cries for help.
  • There was a feeble light in the distance.
  • That's a feeble excuse.

In pop culture

Listen to Elvis Presley singing “Stand By Me” here:

Listen out for the lyric “When I’m growing old and feeble.”

Additional information

In the physical sense, weak, frail, and feeble are fairly interchangeable. However, feeble is often used to mean ‘very weak’ and frail is often used when someone is physically slight and delicate, whereas even someone big and strong might be rendered temporarily feeble by an illness, without losing their physical bulk. You can use weak, but not frail, to talk about moral or intellectual weakness, lack of volume or brightness, or lack of strength, substance, or effectiveness. Again, in these senses, feeble may suggest a greater degree of weakness than weak.

Did you know?

A feeble grind is a skateboarding trick. Learn how to do it here:

Other forms

feebleness (noun), feebly (adverb)

Origin

Feeble, meaning ‘lacking strength or vigor,’ dates back to the mid- to late-12th century. It came into English from the Old French feble (weak or feeble), which in turn came from the Latin adjective flēbilis, which meant ‘lamentable’ (literally ‘that which is to be cried over’), from the Latin verb flere (to weep), and can be traced back to the Proto-Indo-European root bhle– (to howl). It is related to the French faible (feeble), as well as the English noun bleat (the sound made by goats and sheep). Feeble has been used to mean weak in the physical, moral or intellectual sense since it first came into English.

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