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 The confident, hardworking, camera-ready young woman of a publicist’s dreams apparently had an evil twin: a woman, pedigreed and usually white, who was not only as accomplished as her male counterparts, but just as cruel and demanding too. Amanda Mull, The Atlantic, "What Comes After the Girlboss?," 25 June 2020 Consider, instead, that a reality show, which is to say Trump, is nothing without its cruel aggrandizements. Jason Parham, Wired, "Trump's Latest Antics Are Just Reality TV Rebooted," 25 June 2020 The spectrum of people who go to Danny the Street for comfort and community contrasts with the rigid, cruel Bureau of Normalcy. Christian Holub,, "Diane Guerrero explains what Doom Patrol craziness can tell us about our lives," 23 June 2020 That includes architecture, cuisine, music, outdoor sports, and diverse cultures — as well as the cruel history of slavery on the region’s plantations., "Confederate obelisk removed from Georgia square amid cheers," 20 June 2020 This is not to say that cyberbullying has been erased, or that some kids aren't continuing to be cruel. Lisa Selin Davis, CNN, "With online learning, class bullies fade to the background," 15 June 2020 Fifty years after the system had been declared unconstitutional, inmates believed that they were still being subjected to cruel and unusual punishment. Rachel Aviv, The New Yorker, "Punishment by Pandemic," 15 June 2020 Millions of Africans were shipped to the Americas and forced into unprecedentedly cruel conditions, both in terms of scale and severity. Matthew Brown, USA TODAY, "Fact check: The Irish were indentured servants, not slaves," 17 Mar. 2015 Ramy’s family members also learn the cruel irony of empty performance. Shamira Ibrahim, The Atlantic, "Ramy Meditates on the Pitfalls of Self-Righteousness," 11 June 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

28 Jun 2020

Cite this Entry

“Cruel.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 9 Jul. 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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More from Merriam-Webster on cruel

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for cruel

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with cruel

Spanish Central: Translation of cruel

Nglish: Translation of cruel for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of cruel for Arabic Speakers

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