cru·​el | \ ˈkrü(-ə)l How to pronounce cruel (audio) \
crueler or crueller; cruelest or cruellest

Definition of cruel

1 : disposed to inflict pain or suffering : devoid of humane feelings a cruel tyrant has a cruel heart
2a : causing or conducive to injury, grief, or pain a cruel joke a cruel twist of fate
b : unrelieved by leniency cruel punishment

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Other Words from cruel

cruelly \ ˈkrü-​(ə-​)lē How to pronounce cruelly (audio) \ 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 So cruel to constantly punch down onto a marginalized group of people. NBC News, "John Cleese accused of transphobia after defending J.K. Rowling on Twitter," 23 Nov. 2020 Lawmakers did not make the change retroactive, however, and McMillan is now asking the Supreme Court to rule that his execution would violate the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. Matt Ford, The New Republic, "The Supreme Court Faces a Matter of Life and Death," 19 Nov. 2020 In Billy Madison, Billy and his friends leave a flaming bag of excrement on an elderly man's front porch as a cruel prank. Kayla Keegan, Good Housekeeping, "Adam Sandler Packed 'Hubie Halloween' With 'Billy Madison' Easter Eggs You Didn't Notice," 19 Oct. 2020 This prediction is, of course, almost instantly disproved, when, in a cruel prank, Maya is made to believe that Brandt and Dustin, two boys in her grade, are in love with her. Naomi Fry, The New Yorker, "The Brilliant Awkwardness of “Pen15”," 28 Sep. 2020 Not only does the cruel punishment persist (more on that later), its use inflicts exceptional harm on the over 6,000 women currently in Canada’s prisons. Sabrina Maddeaux,, "The Ugly Truth About Solitary Confinement In Canada’s Women’s Prisons," 9 Nov. 2020 If someone posts a cruel comment on one of your social media posts about the election, ask them to talk about it over the phone or in person, Israel suggests. Scottie Andrew, CNN, "The election's over. Here's how to navigate the next few weeks with grace and civility," 9 Nov. 2020 In a cruel twist of fate – one of at least two connected with this story – the younger Latrobe contracted yellow fever and died before the project could be completed. Mike Scott,, "With an 1822 building, the architect who designed the U.S. Capitol also left his mark in New Orleans," 9 Nov. 2020 The Fifth Circuit ruled that the conditions violated the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment. Adam Liptak, New York Times, "her first Supreme Court argument," 2 Nov. 2020

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'cruel.' 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 cruel

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for cruel

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

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Time Traveler for cruel

Time Traveler

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

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Statistics for cruel

Last Updated

1 Dec 2020

Cite this Entry

“Cruel.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 4 Dec. 2020.

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More Definitions for cruel


How to pronounce cruel (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of cruel

used to describe people who hurt others and do not feel sorry about it
: causing or helping to cause suffering : terrible and unfair


cru·​el | \ ˈkrü-əl How to pronounce cruel (audio) \
crueler or crueller; cruelest or cruellest

Kids Definition of cruel

1 : wanting to cause others to suffer a cruel ruler
2 : causing or helping to cause suffering cruel punishment a cruel joke

Other Words from cruel

cruelly adverb

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