If we ignore the context, what is the meaning of 'phenomenal price?' Positive or negative?

  • I always read "phenomenal" as meaning "Perceptible by the senses" in this context, which is to say, I assume it's meaningless.
    – user867
    Sep 27, 2013 at 5:55
  • Depends on how much you are willing to spend to impress your peers. Context-free, it's positive.
    – Kris
    Sep 27, 2013 at 6:15

4 Answers 4


How can you ignore the context, when you have an intensifier? Depending on the context, phenomenal can be either very positive or very negative.

Most frequently, it is used positively. For example, the tickets are offered at phenomenal prices.

In the following sentence, though, phenomenal means something bad:

It can thus avoid the forced choice of determinism or dualism, accounting for order and novelty without the heavy ontological price of a dualism or the unacceptable phenomenal price of the denial of order and novelty. (John Protev, Notes on Materialism) [Edit: This sentence was a totally wrong example. See the comment by Janus Bahs Jacquet.]


The program was established by the Canadian government to raise cash for the phenomenal expense of the war. / Two further sources influence the historical development of New Zealand masculinity: the Depressions of the 1880s and 190s, and the phenomenal price of the wars: Land Wars of the 1860s, the South African War, both World Wars and the Viet Nam War. / That said, one of the most common criticisms of Sony is the phenomenal price of the Sony Chargers and Sony power cables.

Phenomenal can mean either really low or really high.

So, "I don't agree with the question."

  • 1
    Your example is a bit stilted. How about this: "The Cézanne was sold at auction for the phenomenal price of $259 million." vs. "The Cézanne was sold at a thrift store for the phenomenal price of $5." Sep 27, 2013 at 7:42
  • Well, that kind of high happens to be really good for the auctioneer, and not all that terrible for the buyer (he got something he really wanted in return), so there's not much negativity, as in my example. Notwithstanding, all of the examples so far, show just how much the context is an inextricable part of this word's meaning.
    – Talia Ford
    Sep 27, 2013 at 7:49
  • Yes, good point. Phenomenal has more to do with being remarkable or unusual. As you say, context is needed to determine whether it should be interpreted negatively or positively. In the case of the auction, both the buyer and the seller would consider the price remarkable, but it doesn't mean either or both parties had a positive or negative experience. On the other hand, the person who finds out their Cézanne was sold at a thrift store is going to be (or should be) very upset, no doubt about it. Sep 27, 2013 at 7:57
  • 1
    I disagree with your example here. In Protev’s context, ‘phenomenal’ is not an intensifier (positive or negative) at all, but a simple adjective meaning “capable of being known empirically, esp. through the senses or through immediate experience, perceptible” (OED), juxtaposed with ‘ontological’. The price paid ontologically is heavy, and the price paid phenomenally is unacceptable. Sep 27, 2013 at 8:42
  • @JanusBahsJacquet You're right. An astute observation. The sentence is from Google and as soon as I glanced at it I though it was perfect for what I had in mind. I'll add an appropriate example. No sense now in deleting this one.
    – Talia Ford
    Sep 27, 2013 at 8:50

To me phenomenal price with no context means the exact same price as I would normally pay or even more but with the connotation that we are supposed to think something is discounted.


Phenomenal means "extremely impressive or surprising."

Sounds like a phenomenal endorsement to me.


I'd say that phenomenal is so overused nowadays and the phenomenality of prices is so ridiculously exaggerated that both within and without context it has negative connotation. To me it says "We'd like to emphasize the fact that we have the lowest prices possible. Our vocabulary is poor however, so we will call these prices… phenomenal".

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