cruel

adjective

cru·​el ˈkrü(-ə)l How to pronounce cruel (audio)
crueler or crueller; cruelest or cruellest
1
: disposed to inflict pain or suffering : devoid of humane feelings
a cruel tyrant
has a cruel heart
2
a
: causing or conducive to injury, grief, or pain
a cruel joke
a cruel twist of fate
b
: unrelieved by leniency
cruel punishment
cruelly adverb
cruelness noun
Choose the Right Synonym for cruel

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 cruel in a Sentence

a cruel twist of fate Hunger is a cruel fact of nature.
Recent Examples on the Web Permit me to again summon how this played at the press screening: Half the audience were howling at this scene, delighted by the cruel comedy; half were sitting in stunned silence, observing the profound pain both characters were in. Leslie Felperin, The Hollywood Reporter, 19 Feb. 2024 Read: When a lie becomes your breakout film Perhaps that sounds cruel. Shirley Li, The Atlantic, 16 Feb. 2024 Taurus April 20 – May 20 Getting locked into a dramatic showdown with a gratuitously cruel authority figure is a risk now. Tarot.com, Baltimore Sun, 14 Feb. 2024 More than a dozen governors have joined in opening a new and particularly cruel chapter in the GOP’s ongoing attempt to be against anything the Biden White House supports. Patricia Lopez, The Mercury News, 9 Feb. 2024 Unless an adult was nearby, the excluding kids were verbally hostile, cruel and bullying to the shunned child. Kwame Anthony Appiah, New York Times, 9 Feb. 2024 What are Americans supposed to conclude from the macabre cruel actions and threats to our democracy, let alone lack of care or balance for Arab Americans? Doris Bittar, San Diego Union-Tribune, 8 Feb. 2024 Tying the fate of Ukraine in its existential fight with Russia to a resolution of the near-irresolvable politics of the American border seems a particularly cruel twist. Susan B. Glasser, The New Yorker, 2 Feb. 2024 Maruca bitterly demanded money in writing, and a narrative emerged of Neruda as a cruel man who abandoned his wife and his daughter. Graciela Mochkofsky, The New Yorker, 6 Feb. 2024 See More

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

Word History

Etymology

Middle English, from Anglo-French, from Latin crudelis, from crudus — see crude entry 1

First Known Use

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of cruel was in the 14th century

Dictionary Entries Near cruel

Cite this Entry

“Cruel.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/cruel. Accessed 4 Mar. 2024.

Kids Definition

cruel

adjective
cru·​el ˈkrü-əl How to pronounce cruel (audio)
crueler or crueller; cruelest or cruellest
1
: ready to hurt others : without humane feelings
a cruel ruler
2
a
: causing or helping to cause suffering
a cruel joke
b
: showing no mercy
cruel punishment
cruelly adverb
cruelness noun

More from Merriam-Webster on cruel

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