‘In Awe’: Definition, Meaning, and Examples

By Sophia Merton, updated on February 15, 2023

Did you hear someone say they were ‘in awe’ or someone or something? What does this phrase mean, and how can you use it in a sentence?

In short, ‘in awe’ means “a feeling of reverential respect mixed with wonder or fear.” In this article, we’ll take a closer look at its meaning and origin as well as example sentences for the phrase.

What Does 'In Awe' Mean?

The phrase ‘in awe’ is typically used in reference to someone or something and means “having a great deal of admiration or respect” for that person or thing.

It can also imply a level of fear or nervousness around the person or thing they are ‘in awe’ of, as it can imply a simultaneous feeling of reverence, wonder, and fear.

Where Does 'In Awe' Come From?

The word ‘awe’ comes from around the year 1300 with the meaning of “great reverence, terror, fear.” An earlier version of the word, aghe, dates back to around 1200.

The contemporary use of the word meaning “dread mixed veneration or admiration” comes from the way the word is used in the Bible. The phrase ‘to stand in awe’ comes from the early 15th century and initially was used without the word ‘in,’ as in ‘stand awe.’

In the Bible, we find many instances of the phrase ‘in awe.’ Here are some examples from the New American Standard Bible:

  • Psalm 65:8– “They who dwell in the ends of the earth stand in awe of Your signs; You make the dawn and the sunset shout for joy.”
  • Psalm 33:8– “Let all the earth fear the Lord; Let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of Him.”
  • Psalm 119:161– “Princes persecute me without cause, But my heart stands in awe of Your words.”

Looking at the Google Books Ngram Viewer, we see that the usage of the phrase ‘in awe’ is about as common today as it was in the year 1800. However, usage dropped starting at the turn of the 19th century and continued declining until reaching a plateau between the 1920s and the 1980s. Since then, ‘in awe’ has become more frequently used in texts.

The phrase ‘in awe’ appears in a work by John Milton, the 17th-century English poet, pamphleteer, and historian:

“True, and for that very reason fled is right here; because nothing more shows our not standing much in awe of a Man, than our fearing him.”

‘In awe’ also shows up in the works of Alexander Pope, an English poet, translator, and satirist that is considered one of the most important English poets of the early eighteenth century:

“Has yet a strange ambition to look worse;

Confounds the civil, keeps the rude in awe,

Jests like a licens’d fool, commands like law.”

Examples of 'In Awe' In Sentences

How would you use 'in awe' in a sentence? Let’s take a look at some examples.

  • “At the Easter parade, the children stood in awe of the person marching around in a large pink bunny costume.”
  • “We’ve only just begun working together, but I’m already completely in awe of her. I’ve never met anyone that was so competent in this position.”
  • “Every year, the family traveled to a remote camp where they could spend their evenings in awe of the night sky.”
  • “I was just going along for the ride, so I didn’t realize I would find myself in awe of the performer.”
  • “It’s been twenty years since I graduated, but I still look back in awe at my professor. I often wonder if he has any idea how much of an impact he had on me.”
  • “Jim assumed they would all be in awe of his talent, but when he finished his performance, he felt the entire crowd looked bored.”
  • “Whenever I go to the ocean, I always spend a few hours just standing in awe on the beach.”

Famous ‘In Awe’ Quotes

‘Awe’ is a powerful word that has been common for centuries. To help you gain a better sense of the way it has been used over time, let’s look at some famous quotes using the word ‘awe’ and the phrase ‘in awe.’

“He who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead; his eyes are closed.”

– Albert Einstein

“The first act of awe, when man was struck with the beauty or wonder of Nature, was the first spiritual experience.”

– Henryk Skolimowski

“We teach children how to measure and how to weigh. We fail to teach them how to revere, how to sense wonder and awe.”

– Harold S. Kushner

“In the original language, 'Fear the Lord' doesn't mean be afraid. It means sustaining a joyful, astonished awe, and wonder before Him.”

– Timothy Keller

“The feeling of awed wonder that science can give us is one of the highest experiences of which the human psyche is capable.”

– Richard Dawkins

“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery every day. Never lose a holy curiosity.”

– Albert Einstein

“Because philosophy arises from awe, a philosopher is bound in his way to be a lover of myths and poetic fables. Poets and philosophers are alike in being big with wonder.”

– Thomas Aquinas

“The job of a teacher is to excite in the young a boundless sense of curiosity about life, so that the growing child shall come to apprehend it with an excitement tempered by awe and wonder.”

– John Garrett

“To science, not even the bark of a tree or a drop of pond water is dull or a handful of dirt banal. They all arouse awe and wonder.”

– Jane Jacobs

“Two things awe me most, the starry sky above me and the moral law within me.”

– Immanuel Kant

Other Ways to Say 'In Awe'

What are some other words and phrases that have a similar meaning to 'in awe'? Here are some options:

  • Wonder
  • Veneration
  • Inspire reverence
  • Enthrall
  • Overwhelm
  • Admiration
  • Astonishment
  • Amazement
  • Fascination
  • Disbelief
  • Shock

Are you ‘in awe’ of how many fascinating phrases there are in the English language? If so, head over to our idioms blog!

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Written By:
Sophia Merton
Sophia Merton is one of the lead freelance writers for WritingTips.org. Sophia received her BA from Vassar College. She is passionate about reading, writing, and the written word. Her goal is to help everyone, whether native English speaker or not, learn how to write and speak with perfect English.

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