bar·​ba·​rous ˈbär-b(ə-)rəs How to pronounce barbarous (audio)
: lacking culture or refinement : philistine
: characterized by the occurrence of barbarisms
barbarous language
: mercilessly harsh or cruel
barbarous crimes
barbarously adverb
barbarousness noun
Choose the Right Synonym for barbarous

fierce, ferocious, barbarous, savage, cruel mean showing fury or malignity in looks or actions.

fierce applies to humans and animals that inspire terror because of their wild and menacing aspect or fury in attack.

fierce warriors

ferocious implies extreme fierceness and unrestrained violence and brutality.

a ferocious dog

barbarous implies a ferocity or mercilessness regarded as unworthy of civilized people.

barbarous treatment of prisoners

savage implies the absence of inhibitions restraining civilized people filled with rage, lust, or other violent passion.

a savage criminal

cruel implies indifference to suffering and even positive pleasure in inflicting it.

the cruel jokes of schoolboys

Examples of barbarous in a Sentence

a monarch resorting to whatever barbarous means he deemed necessary to protect his throne an aunt who abhors barbarous behavior such as eating with your fingers
Recent Examples on the Web But when the barbarous scale of Hamas’s October 7 attacks on Israel became clear, staying silent ceased to be an option, reports my colleague Elliott Gotkine. Nicole Goodkind, CNN, 23 Oct. 2023 The coalition behind the sanctions against Russia is broad, wealthy, and militarily powerful, and its objective of ending Russia’s barbarous war is widely shared, even by those not participating in the sanctions. Carla Norrlöf, Foreign Affairs, 21 Feb. 2023 Saudi Arabia, like most of the world’s barbarous regimes, looked at the 2022 World Cup—held in Qatar, another repressive state—and saw a massive success. Alex Shephard, The New Republic, 6 June 2023 Three days after a barbarous playground attack left the lakeside town in grief and shock, and in an amphitheater facing the public park where the tragedy occurred, the Annecy Intl. Ben Croll, Variety, 11 June 2023 Alito’s opinion is barbarous and cruel. Washington Post, 3 May 2022 Alyokhina writes frankly about the barbarous conditions and treatment in a prison system deemed by human rights groups, including Amnesty International, as one of the worst in the world. Lindsay Schnell, USA TODAY, 21 Dec. 2022 And the pagan warriors’ attacks on Christian monasteries no doubt cemented their barbarous reputation. Molly Glick, Discover Magazine, 27 Mar. 2021 Guatemala’s dictator Efrain Rios Montt came to power in a coup in 1982, and within three months of his barbarous rule some 10,000 people were slaughtered. Steven Levingston, Washington Post, 16 Dec. 2022 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'barbarous.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


Latin barbarus, from Greek barbaros foreign, ignorant

First Known Use

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

Time Traveler
The first known use of barbarous was in the 15th century

Dictionary Entries Near barbarous

Cite this Entry

“Barbarous.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 6 Dec. 2023.

Kids Definition


bar·​ba·​rous ˈbär-b(ə-)rəs How to pronounce barbarous (audio)
barbarously adverb
barbarousness noun

More from Merriam-Webster on barbarous

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