The use of the adjective fraught


I recently read an article online and came across this sentence: "The process is fraught with both potential benefits and drawbacks." Based on my understanding of the definitions provided by the Oxford and Cambridge Dictionaries, the word "fraught" typically implies a negative connotation, suggesting something filled with unpleasantness or causing worry and stress. Therefore, I am wondering if the word "fraught" is used incorrectly in this context, or if there is another usage of this word?

Best Answer

I agree. There is normally an undesirable association. Cambridge Dictionary stresses this, and all its examples are in line with this stance:

fraught with [phrase]

full of unpleasant things such as problems or dangers:

  • fraught with difficulties: The negotiations have been fraught with difficulties right from the start.
  • fraught with problems: The situation is fraught with problems and requires sensitive handling.
  • fraught with risks: From beginning to end, the airlift was fraught with risks.
  • fraught with peril: Their new ploy is fraught with peril.
  • fraught with danger: The whole trip was fraught with danger.
  • fraught with tension: The meeting was fraught with tension.
  • fraught with obstacles: The process, however, is fraught with obstacles.
  • fraught with uncertainties: The situation is fraught with uncertainties.
  • fraught with errors: The paper was poorly researched and is fraught with errors. [M-W]
  • fraught with disappointments: Then I reminded myself that it is fraught with disappointments. [Longman]
  • fraught with fear, discouragement, depression: And her reaction to her illness was, as best I can glean, fraught with fear, discouragement, and depression. [Longman]
  • fraught with [many] sighs: But it is said, too, that her passion brings her only a burden of pain, fraught with many sighs. [Longman]
  • fraught with pain: Alas! the centuries are fraught with pain, and man is burdened by fear and woe. [Longman]

OLD and Britannica also have the 'undesirable' caveat. has a less strict caveat:

Fraught [with] means filled with something — often something bad.

And AHD has a borderline example:

  • an evening fraught with high drama.

Some of the few exceptions to this rule found in Google searches pair an undesirable possibility with a beneficial one:

  • Choosing to leave a conference early is a decision fraught with potential benefits and drawbacks. [Global Conference Alliance Inc ›]

  • The debate over a digital dollar, fraught with potential benefits and pitfalls, continues to reverberate in financial corridors. [Global Passports and Citizenship]

  • Another area fraught with potential benefits and dangers is economics. [[EngagedScholarship@CSU by BHE Hernandez]( › cgi › vie... PDF)

  • [I]mplementing CSR projects are fraught with potential benefits and challenges. [[University of Toronto; D Bodruzic]( › bitstream › Bod... PDF)

They all include 'potential benefits' (and admittedly there are also some uncoordinated 'fraught with benefits' examples), but there are very few of them. Probably best avoided, certainly for untwinned possibilities.

Churchill predictably came up with a very witty example:

  • Life is fraught with opportunities to keep your mouth shut

but there is an element of bad ramifications, and he was a superb wordsmith.

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