bit·​ter | \ ˈbi-tər How to pronounce bitter (audio) \

Definition of bitter

 (Entry 1 of 4)

1a : being, inducing, or marked by the one of the five basic taste sensations that is peculiarly acrid, astringent, and often disagreeable and characteristic of citrus peels, unsweetened cocoa, black coffee, mature leafy greens (such as kale or mustard), or ale The pill left a bitter taste in my mouth. bitter beer bitter chocolates — compare salty entry 1 sense 1b, sour entry 1 sense 1, sweet entry 1, umami entry 2 sense 1
b : distasteful or distressing to the mind : galling a bitter sense of shame
2 : marked by intensity or severity:
a : accompanied by severe pain or suffering a bitter death
b : being relentlessly determined : vehement a bitter partisan
c : exhibiting intense animosity bitter enemies
d(1) : harshly reproachful bitter complaints
(2) : marked by cynicism and rancor bitter contempt was still bitter about not being chosen
e : intensely unpleasant especially in coldness or rawness a bitter wind
3 : caused by or expressive of severe pain, grief, or regret bitter tears



Definition of bitter (Entry 2 of 4)

1a : bitter quality … stepping outside your comfort zone and taking the bitter with the sweet.— James Poniewoziks
b : the taste sensation that is peculiarly acrid, astringent, and often disagreeable and is characteristic of citrus peels, unsweetened cocoa, black coffee, mature leafy greens (such as kale or mustard), or ale — compare salty entry 2, sour entry 2 sense 1b, sweet entry 3 sense 2, umami entry 1
2a bitters\ ˈbi-​tərz How to pronounce bitters (audio) \ plural : a usually alcoholic solution of bitter and often aromatic plant products used especially in preparing mixed drinks or as a mild tonic (see tonic entry 1 sense 1b)
b British : a very dry (see dry entry 1 sense 7b) heavily hopped ale


bittered; bittering; bitters

Definition of bitter (Entry 3 of 4)

transitive verb

: to make bitter (see bitter entry 1) bittered ale



Definition of bitter (Entry 4 of 4)

: to an intense or severe degree : to a bitter (see bitter entry 1) degree It's bitter cold.

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Other Words from bitter


bitterish \ ˈbi-​tə-​rish How to pronounce bitterish (audio) \ adjective
bitterly adverb
bitterness noun

Synonyms & Antonyms for bitter

Synonyms: Adjective

Antonyms: Adjective

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Examples of bitter in a Sentence

Adjective Cocoa beans have a bitter flavor. The medicine had a bitter aftertaste. We were struck by the bitter irony of the situation. His betrayal had made her bitter. She was still bitter toward her ex-husband. He's the bitterest man I know. Noun The cocktail recipe called for a dash of bitters. a good selection of bitters
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Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective At the best of times people are anxious, lonely, bitter, prejudiced, annoyed and confused. The Economist, "The lives of others Diaries written in adversity can be a source of solace," 23 May 2020 Nonetheless, the film is sufficiently confrontational, its incidents sufficiently agonizing and infuriating, to reflect back at viewers a frank, bitter, and outraged political diagnosis. Richard Brody, The New Yorker, "What to Stream: “The Liberation of L. B. Jones,” a 1970 Film About the Agonies of Racial Injustice," 21 May 2020 Post-Iowa showdown | Pete Buttigieg and Bernie Sanders will meet face-to-face on the debate stage tonight in New Hampshire, amid a bitter and unanswered dispute over which one of them will come out victorious from the Iowa caucuses. Ben Sills,, "Germany Shaken by an Extremist Surprise," 12 May 2020 The result is that, when paired with wine, asparagus can overpower the flavors in your glass with that same bitter, metallic sensation. Esther Mobley,, "Wine’s asparagus conundrum," 7 May 2020 The strong bipartisan vote showed a rare level of unity in a Washington riven by partisan divides with a backdrop of a bitter fight for the Senate and the White House this fall. Laura Litvan,, "Senate Working at ‘Warp Speed’ to Finish Drafting Stimulus Today," 5 May 2020 Low-level government employees asked about potential salary cuts said they were scared, sometimes bitter, that their salaries might become casualties of decades of mismanagement. Washington Post, "Iraq’s economy is collapsing under the double blow of sinking oil prices and coronavirus lockdown," 4 May 2020 The bitter dispute, in which both men declared victory and had dueling inauguration ceremonies, has been a major stumbling block to getting peace talks with the Taliban started. Jamie Mcintyre, Washington Examiner, "Taliban conduct deadly bombing in Afghanistan as Pentagon defends keeping violence data secret," 4 May 2020 The bitter, herbal liqueur is growing in popularity with American makers, alongside cocktails like Negronis. Sunset Magazine, "Build the Ultimate Bar Cart with These Award-Winning Spirits," 12 Apr. 2020 Recent Examples on the Web: Noun The kits might include some limited-edition bitters; the labor-intensive syrups for the cocktails are made at the bar. Carol Deptolla, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "The show goes on for some food and drink classes, but now online," 6 May 2020 One version is made with barrel-aged Hornitos Black tequila ($11); another combines tequila and mezcal and is finished with mole cocktail bitters ($12). Eric Velasco, al, "Sol y Luna restaurant reopens, revives favorite dishes," 4 May 2020 Add at least one kind of all-around bitters, like Angostura or Peychaud’s. Clay Risen, New York Times, "How to Stock Your Liquor Cabinet," 24 Apr. 2020 Spirits, mixers, bitters, and cocktail kits are all available for delivery. Carey Jones, Condé Nast Traveler, "How to Support Local Business in San Francisco During COVID-19," 8 Apr. 2020 Muddle the sugar cube and bitters in the glass, then add the bourbon and 1 large ice cube. Cole Wilson, Popular Mechanics, "Your Home Bar Needs a Smoke Gun, an Immersion Circulator, and...Milk?," 24 Apr. 2020 Put an orange slice, two cherries, 3 to 5 dashes of bitters and sugar (to your liking) in a rocks or lowball glass and muddle the ingredients. Jordyn Noennig, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Play sheepshead, make old-fashioneds and four other ways to 'social distance' Wisconsin-style," 19 Mar. 2020 Kaleena, now the owner of a company that makes cocktail bitters in Chattanooga, Tenn., said she and her twin had previously been inseparable. Kate Murphy, New York Times, "You’re Not Listening. Here’s Why.," 11 Feb. 2020 Genevieve Brazelton founded the Bitter Housewife five years ago with her husband, crafting small-batch bitters in pure, classic flavors. Lisa Futterman,, "Bitters and soda, the classic combination, now comes in a can and it’s being embraced by those cutting back on drinking," 5 Nov. 2019 Recent Examples on the Web: Verb Most Beach Club beers, like Mango Colada with coconut and lime, have minimal amounts of bittering hops. Eric Velasco, al, "Local breweries focus on seasonal brews for spring," 23 Apr. 2020 This grape is extremely approachable, with lots of fruit flavor and balanced dryness, due to the low tannins, which are the drying or bittering agent in many wines. Paul Daugherty,, "Doc's Morning Line: The good and bad from the UC Bearcats' opening loss to Ohio State," 7 Nov. 2019 With all the ABVs and bittering units, barrel sizes and batch numbers, a beer bottle’s label can often read like the back of a baseball card. William Bostwick, WSJ, "Finally, Light Beers That Aren’t Light on Flavor," 8 Aug. 2018 The liqueur puts Indiana persimmons front and center while adding traditional bittering agents like rhubarb root and bitter orange peel, with cardamom and spearmint offering added complexity. Kenney Marlatt,, "Chicago spirit-maker Apologue delivers Midwestern flavors to cocktails," 30 May 2018 Another hop, typically grown in the Southern Hemisphere and used largely as a bittering agent, presented big, fruit flavors more like traditional West Coast hops. Natasha Geiling, Smithsonian, "The East Coast May Be On the Brink of a Hop Renaissance," 21 May 2018 Those are made employing the still somewhat suspicious American practice of adding bittering hops to the mix, but there's nothing aggressive or even untoward about them. Mike Sula, Chicago Reader, "Irving Park’s Eris is a space of supermortal dimensions," 22 Mar. 2018 Night Shift built Nite Lite similarly, adding real corn (as opposed to corn syrup or rice syrup) and brewing with a touch of Saaz hops, the classic bittering agent in a Czech pilsner. Gary Dzen,, "Night Shift releasing Nite Lite, taking on the Buds and Millers of the world," 20 Mar. 2018 Two grants for a total of $135,154 went to Pennsylvania State University for projects involving hops, which are the bittering agent in beer. Harold Brubaker,, "Pa. awards $705K in PLCB grants to promote state's beer industry," 1 Mar. 2018 Recent Examples on the Web: Adverb Once the weather starts getting hot, your celery will start producing seeds and turn bitter, much the way that lettuce bolts in the heat. Jeanette Marantosstaff Writer, Los Angeles Times, "Growing your own celery is easier than you think," 22 Jan. 2020

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'bitter.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of bitter


before the 12th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a


before the 12th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a


12th century, in the meaning defined above


before the 12th century, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for bitter


Middle English, going back to Old English biter, going back to Germanic *bitra- (whence Old Saxon & Old High German bittar "acrid-tasting," Old Norse bitr "biting, sharp") and *baitra- (whence Gothic baitrs "sharp-tasting"), derivatives from the base of *bītan- "to bite" — more at bite entry 1


derivative of bitter entry 1


Middle English bittrin, going back to Old English biterian, derivative of biter bitter entry 1


Middle English bitter, bittere, going back to Old English bitere, derivative of biter bitter entry 1

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Time Traveler for bitter

Time Traveler

The first known use of bitter was before the 12th century

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Statistics for bitter

Last Updated

25 May 2020

Cite this Entry

“Bitter.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 2 Jun. 2020.

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More Definitions for bitter


How to pronounce bitter (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of bitter

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: having a strong and often unpleasant flavor that is the opposite of sweet
: causing painful emotions : felt or experienced in a strong and unpleasant way
: angry and unhappy because of unfair treatment



English Language Learners Definition of bitter (Entry 2 of 2)

: a bitter alcoholic liquid that is used especially in mixed drinks
British : a type of beer that has a slightly bitter flavor


bit·​ter | \ ˈbi-tər How to pronounce bitter (audio) \
bitterer; bitterest

Kids Definition of bitter

1 : sharp, biting, and unpleasant to the taste
2 : unhappy and angry because of unfair treatment She was bitter toward her spoiled sister.
3 : hard to put up with a bitter disappointment
4 : caused by anger, distress, or sorrow bitter tears
5 : very harsh or sharp : biting a bitter wind

Other Words from bitter

bitterly adverb wept bitterly


bit·​ter | \ ˈbit-ər How to pronounce bitter (audio) \

Medical Definition of bitter

: being or inducing the one of the four basic taste sensations that is peculiarly acrid, astringent, or disagreeable and suggestive of an infusion of hops — compare salt entry 2 sense 2, sour entry 1, sweet entry 1

Other Words from bitter

bitterness noun

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More from Merriam-Webster on bitter

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for bitter

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with bitter

Spanish Central: Translation of bitter

Nglish: Translation of bitter for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of bitter for Arabic Speakers

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