bru·​tal ˈbrü-tᵊl How to pronounce brutal (audio)
: suitable to one who lacks intelligence, sensitivity, or compassion : befitting a brute: such as
: cruel, cold-blooded
a brutal attack
: harsh, severe
brutal weather
: unpleasantly accurate and incisive
the brutal truth
: very bad or unpleasant
a brutal mistake
: grossly ruthless or unfeeling
a brutal slander
archaic : typical of beasts : animal
thee, Serpent … to me so friendly grown above the rest of brutal kindJohn Milton
brutally adverb
Choose the Right Synonym for brutal

brutal, brutish, bestial, feral mean characteristic of an animal in nature, action, or instinct.

brutal applies to people, their acts, or their words and suggests a lack of intelligence, feeling, or humanity.

a senseless and brutal war

brutish stresses likeness to an animal in low intelligence, in base appetites, and in behavior based on instinct.

brutish stupidity

bestial suggests a state of degradation unworthy of humans and fit only for beasts.

bestial depravity

feral suggests the savagery or ferocity of wild animals.

the struggle to survive unleashed their feral impulses

Examples of brutal in a Sentence

Sailors sometimes faced brutal punishments like whipping. a brutal struggle for survival in the wilderness The writer describes the dangers of drugs with brutal honesty. The movie is a brutal depiction of the war. The traffic was brutal on the way to work. I had a brutal headache this morning. See More
Recent Examples on the Web But even during a brutal tour of Russia’s penal system, Navalny maintained his composure – and his extraordinary sense of humor. Nathan Hodge, CNN, 17 Feb. 2024 The Cowboys won the NFC East last season, taking advantage of a brutal downturn by the Philadelphia Eagles down the season’s home stretch to gain first place. Steve Silverman, Forbes, 17 Feb. 2024 Maria’s Silence, which has its world premiere on Sunday at the Berlinale as part of its Forum program, captures Leiko having to choose between fame and love for her grandchild at the height of Stalin’s brutal totalitarian regime. Etan Vlessing, The Hollywood Reporter, 16 Feb. 2024 Ukraine recently rotated out soldiers from the 110th Brigade, which had played a vital role in the defense of the city for two years but were exhausted and severely depleted after months of brutal combat. Marc Santora, New York Times, 15 Feb. 2024 In the first six weeks of 2024, the industry has announced more than 6,000 job cuts, according to a Kotaku tally — already outpacing a brutal layoff year in 2023. Gene Park, Washington Post, 15 Feb. 2024 Clearly, the Russian leadership is capable of brutal expansionist aggression. Keith Gessen, The New Yorker, 15 Feb. 2024 The show is a dramatization of the 1913 trial, imprisonment and eventual hanging of Jewish American Leo Frank in Georgia after he was accused — falsely, most historians agree — of a brutal crime. Randy McMullen, The Mercury News, 13 Feb. 2024 An Israel Defence Forces (IDF) reservist, Atzmon, 26, was called up just hours after Hamas launched its brutal terror attack on Israel, murdering around 1,200 people and kidnapping 253 others. Ivana Kottasová, CNN, 5 Feb. 2024 See More

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

Word History


Middle English, from Middle French or Medieval Latin; Middle French, from Medieval Latin brutalis, from Latin brutus — more at brute

First Known Use

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 2

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

Dictionary Entries Near brutal

Cite this Entry

“Brutal.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 22 Feb. 2024.

Kids Definition


bru·​tal ˈbrüt-ᵊl How to pronounce brutal (audio)
: being cruel and inhuman : savage
a brutal attack
brutally adverb

More from Merriam-Webster on brutal

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