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Fraught

In its modern senses, the adjective fraught usually has negative connotations. The phrase fraught with means full of, and it’s usually followed by a negative noun like danger, anxiety, or uncertainty. Without with, fraught means (1) distressed or (2) producing anxiety.

The word was originally a noun similar in meaning to freight—and it did not have negative connotations—but that noun sense is obsolete.

Examples

Although fraught with is usually followed by something negative, exceptions are easily found, suggesting that the negative connotations are not universal:

I’ve always found individual player won-loss records fascinating, although not exactly fraught with meaning. [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette]

More often, it is in a humbler scene, fraught with quiet and light. [Huffington Post]


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But fraught with is much more commonly used in describing something negative, as in these cases:

Williams’s career has been fraught with setbacks since her 2010 Wimbledon triumph. [Washington Post]

The U.S. relationship with Pakistan is fraught with anxiety and danger. [NPR]

Predicting where interest rates will be in a year’s time is fraught with difficulty. [Independent]

The second sense of fraught (without with) is most common in British English, but it’s used throughout the English-speaking world. Here are a few examples:

Relations between the two countries have been fraught ever since they were forced into an awkward alliance in the aftermath of 9/11. [Telegraph]

He said the experience was particularly fraught as his wife, Jenn, was expecting another child that month. [New Zealand Herald]

The murders have laid bare the area’s fraught history of racism and mistrust. [New York Times]

Given this sense of fraught, phrases like fraught with anxiety and fraught with worry could be considered redundant.

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Comments

  1. My sense is that the second usage of fraught, not followed by a prepositional phrase, is becoming more common. It doesn’t seem quite right to me, but I guess I’m wrong.

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