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

This guide will give you all of the info you need on the word sobering, including its definition, etymology, synonyms and antonyms, and more!

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What is the definition of sobering?

According to Merriam-Webster Unabridged English Dictionary and Vocabulary,  the word sobering, pronounced “ˈsəʊbərɪŋ,” is an adjective that means tending to make sober or serious. Someone might choose to use the adjective sobering when discussing news that is serious or grave. Someone might have a sobering thought or a news story might have a sobering effect. Since the word sebring ends in the suffix -ing, people might think that it is a phrasal verb. However, this word is considered an adjective, or the past participle form of the word sober.

The word sober is used in many other languages to mean serious or moderate. The list of below translations for the word sober is provided by Word Sense.

  •  Norman: sobre‎ (masc.) (f) (Jersey)
  • Japanese: 真面目‎ (majime)
  • Italian: sobrio‎ (masc.)
  • Greek: νηφάλιος‎ (masc.), μετρημένος‎ (masc.)
  • Russian: уме́ренный‎
  • Danish: sober‎
  • French: sobre‎
  • Scottish Gaelic: stuama‎
  • Bashkir: айыҡ‎, айныҡ‎
  • Czech: střízlivý‎ (masc.)
  • German: nüchtern‎, besonnen‎, ernst‎
  • Portuguese: sóbrio‎
  • Finnish: hillitty‎
  • Catalan: sobri‎

What is the etymology of the word sobering?

According to Etymonline, the word sober has been used as an adjective since the mid 14th century to mena moderate, temperate, or restrained. This has become used most often to mean abstaining from alcohol or drugs. The word sber somes from the Old French sobre, meaning decent or sober, from the Latin sobrius, meaning not drunk, temperate, or sensible. This is a variant on the prefix se- meaning without, and the root ebrius, meaning drunk. This root is of unknown origin. The word sober has been used as an adjective to mean not drunk since the late 14th century, and also used to mean solemn or serious at around the same time.

The word sober has been used as a verb since the late 14th century to mean to reduce to a quiet considition. It has been used ot mena rendering something grave or serious since 1726. It has been used as an intransitive verb since 1920, and used in the phrase sober up since 1847. Related words include sobered, soberness (noun), soberly (adverb), and sobersides.

What are synonyms and antonyms for the word sobering?

There are many different words and phrases that one can choose to use in place of the word sobering. The word sobering has a long list of synonyms, which are words and phrases with the same definition as the word sobering. People might choose to use a synonym in order to expand their current vocabulary or in order to avoid repeating themselves. The below list of synonyms for the word sobering is from Thesaurus

  • fateful
  • unhumorous
  • severe
  • deep
  • unamusing
  • operose
  • out for blood
  • no joke
  • strictly business
  • momentous
  • no laughing matter
  • smoking
  • arduous
  • menacing
  • pressing
  • worrying
  • playing hard ball
  • laborious
  • difficult
  • significant
  • tough
  • meaningful
  • urgent
  • major
  • far-reaching
  • ugly
  • formidable
  • strenuous
  • meaning business
  • threatening
  • grim
  • dangerous
  • grave
  • hard
  • important
  • heavy
  • fell
  • serious
  • of consequence
  • grievous

There are also many words that one can use to mean the opposite of the word sobering. These are called antonyms. This list of antonyms for the word sobering is also provided by Thesaurus.

  • funny
  • lively
  • trifling
  • giddy
  • flighty
  • blithe
  • diverting
  • frivolous
  • carefree
  • airy
  • fickle
  • cheerful
  • chipper
  • pleasing
  • animated
  • lighthearted
  • sunny
  • merry
  • amusing
  • chirpy
  • high
  • dizzy
  • up
  • trivial
  • cheery
  • sunny-side up
  • gay
  • perky
  • superficial
  • entertaining
  • humorous
  • upbeat
  • light
  • witty 

How can the word sobering be used in a sentence?

The word sobering can be used in many different contexts to describe something that makes someone feel serious or grave. In this first example, Angela and Kelly are video chatting and are upset that they have been quarantined for an entire year.

 Angela: It’s just crazy to me. Like, we thought we were going to have this fun two-week vacation and then life would be back to normal. But now we’re in a global pandemic and over 500,000 people are dead. It’s just really sobering.

Kelly: I know. I feel like I can’t think about it too much or I just get so sad. I hate being stuck at home but I know it’s the best way to keep people safe. I truly don’t know how I’m going to go back into the world after this! All of my social skills are out the window!

Angela: Same! Plus, my cats are going to miss me so much when I have to go back to work. I’m just trying to stay grateful for what I have.

Kelly: Me too.

Here, Angela uses the word sobering to describe the news about the coronavirus pandemic. She compares this to the fact that people thought it was going to be a two-week break at homeland instead it ended up being a serious global issue. In this next example, Kelly uses the word sobering to describe news that her company received.

Kelly: You won’t believe what they just told us over the Friday lunch Zoom.

Angela: What happened?

Kelly: Literally we were in the middle of this happy, fun conversation and then management stepped in and said they’re cutting 50% of lower management and assistants. It was so sudden and sobering.

Overall, the word sobering is an adjective that means serious or grave. Something can be described as sobering if it strikes someone into a serious mood. A news story could be sobering, as could a revelation or conversation. Anything that makes something serious or grave can be described as sobering, but it is often used to describe thoughts and news, as well as effects.