The Meaning of Nefarious: What It Is and How To Use It

Have you ever been curious about the definition of nefarious? This guide will provide you with all of the information you need on the word nefarious, including its definition, etymology, usage, example sentences, and more!

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What does the word nefarious mean?

According to Merriam-Webster Unabridged English Dictionary and Cambridge Dictionary, the word nefarious (pronounced nɪˈfɛər i əs) is an adjective that means morally bad or wrong. This can be used to describe a person who would therefore be inherently evil and not morally sound,  or it can be used to describe an action, practice, or activity. The villain in a movie might be considered nefarious, or stealing from a bank to feed one’s family could also be considered a nefarious act. This is a very common, versatile term that is used frequently in the English language. If an action is nefarious – such as some nefarious plot or nefarious schemes – this means that it is in violation of some moral code or divine law. Try using this word to describe some nefarious practices that you heard about in the news! It is always important to incorporate new words into your everyday vocabulary.

The word nefarious also exists in many other languages. You may notice that some of the following translations look similar to the word nefarious, or are cognates for the English word nefarious. This is because both of the words have the same origin in Latin. Many languages, like the romance languages, have Latin roots and will therefore sometimes look similar to certain words in English that also have Latin roots. This list of translations for the word nefarious is provided by Word Sense.

  • Portuguese: nefasto‎
  • Romanian: abject‎, infam‎, păcătos‎, vicios‎
  • Spanish: nefario‎, nefando‎, feo‎, infame‎, vicioso‎, malvado‎, inicuo‎
  • German: berüchtigt‎, schändlich‎, ruchlos‎, verachtenswert‎, bösartig‎, böse‎
  • Russian: бесче́стный‎ (masc.); нече́стный‎ (masc.), ни́зкий‎ (masc.); гну́сный‎ (masc.), ме́рзкий‎ (masc.), по́длый‎ (masc.)
  • Swedish: skändlig‎, gudlös‎
  • Norwegian: avskyelig‎, skjendig‎
  • Esperanto: skandala‎, malfarinda‎
  • French: infâme‎, scandaleux‎, criminel‎
  • Dutch: berucht‎, schandelijk‎, misdadig‎

How can the word nefarious be used in a sentence?

The word nefarious can be used in many different ways to describe something that is bad, wicked, or morally wrong. In this example, Jessa and Frida’s friend from high school has just been arrested for trafficking. They are shocked to hear the news. 

Frida: Jessa! Did you hear the news? Tom got arrested.

Jessa: What? Are you serious?

Frida: Yes. For human trafficking. I mean, I always knew Tom had a penchant for bending the rules and sneaking around, but I never thought he would use those skills for nefarious purposes.

Jessa: Wow. You think you know a person.

Here, Frida uses the word nefarious to describe Tom’s actions. In this next example,  Lucy and Riley are in trouble with their mom for sneaking out.

Mom: Lucy, Riley, you two are grounded for a month.

Lucy: But mom! We snuck out for a reason, I promise! It wasn’t to do anything nefarious!

Riley: Yeah! Our friends were stuck at this creepy guy’s house, she didn’t have enough money for an Uber and we were the only ones with access to a car. We had to go get them.

Mom: Nefarious means or not, you should not have snuck out. Next time, ask me. You think some creepy guy wouldn’t be scared of me? Please!

Here, Lucy and her mom both use the term nefarious to describe the actions that were taken.

What is the origin of the word nefarious?

According to Etymonline, the word nefarious has been used since the year 1600 to mean wicked to the extreme. The word nefarious comes from the Latin nefarius which means wicked or abominable. This comes from the root nefas meaning some crime, wrongdoing or impiety. Nefas comes from the prefix ne meaning not, which comes from the Proto-Indo-European prefix of the same spelling and meaning. Ne was attached to the root fas, which means right or lawful. This is related to the root fari meaning to speak. This comes from the Proto-Indo-European root bha meaning to speak, say, or tell. Related words to nefarious include the adverb nefariously and the noun nefariousness.

What are synonyms and antonyms for the word nefarious?

There are many words that have the same meaning as the word nefarious. These are called synonyms. Synonyms are very useful to know if you are looking to expand your English vocabulary or if you want to avoid repeating yourself and using the same word over and over again. This list of synonyms for the word nefarious is provided by Thesaurus

  • corrupt
  • bad
  • putrid
  • depraved
  • detestable
  • flagrant
  • rank
  • miscreant
  • shameful
  • criminal
  • gross
  • horrible
  • base
  • execrable
  • vile
  • sinful
  • foul
  • vicious
  • atrocious
  • degenerate
  • iniquitous
  • evil
  • abominable
  • odious
  • dreadful
  • monstrous
  • glaring
  • rotten
  • opprobrious
  • perverse
  • heinous
  • treacherous
  • infamous
  • villainous
  • outrageous
  • wicked
  • flagitious
  • infernal

There are also many different words that mean the opposite of the word nefarious. These are called antonyms. Antonyms are also very useful to know if you are looking to expand your vocabulary or knowledge of the English language. This list of antonyms for the word nefarious is also provided by Thesaurus.

  • humane
  • tenderhearted
  • philanthropic
  • heart in right place
  • benign
  • virtuous
  • gentle
  • lenient
  • kindhearted
  • good-hearted
  • thoughtful
  • amicable
  • kind
  • generous
  • cordial
  • big
  • affectionate
  • propitious
  • charitable
  • good
  • mild
  • considerate
  • courteous
  • friendly
  • all heart
  • bleeding-heart
  • tolerant
  • gracious
  • beneficent
  • compassionate
  • clement
  • soft touch
  • indulgent
  • softhearted
  • amiable
  • loving
  • bounteous
  • eleemosynary
  • understanding
  • obliging
  • benevolent
  • congenial
  • neighborly
  • kindly
  • humanitarian
  • altruistic
  • sympathetic 

Overall, the word nefarious is an adjective that means extremely bad or wicked. This word can be used to describe a great many different things. This word is of Latin origins and also has an adjective form, nefariously, and a noun form, nefariousness.