Forbidding vs. foreboding

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The adjective foreboding, meaning presaging something, connotes a sense of imminent danger. When something is foreboding, one gets the sense that something bad is going to happen. Although the participle works as an adjective, the word is more often used as a noun referring to a sense of imminent danger. For example, one might feel foreboding on hearing a rumble of distant thunder.

Forbidding means hostile, unfriendly, or tending to impede progress. Things that are forbidding may cause fear, but they don’t necessarily presage anything. A heavy, locked door, for instance, is forbidding, but it’s not foreboding unless there is something frightening about it.



There’s a sense of foreboding as the state Legislature prepares to convene on Tuesday. []

There will be some in the party, however, who will see the endorsement as a foreboding sign of how the campaign might unfold. [Aberdeen Press Journal]

The memory of how previous revolutions have evolved means that western sympathy with the revolt in Egypt is tinged with foreboding. [Financial Times]


It was the scrubby turf where their teenagers played sandlot baseball, the forbidding tall grass where the ill-intentioned stashed stolen cars, or worse. [City Limits]

As you might expect, Rocksteady’s Gotham City is a dark and forbidding place. [Telegraph]

The Arctic Ocean is a forbidding place for oil drillers. [New York Times]