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 cruel (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 Serena was in many ways more cruel to June, and her cruelty was more inexplicable. Erik Kain, Forbes, 26 May 2021 Golf can be cruel to veteran, sentimental favorites. Ben Nuckols,, 24 May 2021 Golf can be cruel to veteran, sentimental favorites. Ben Nuckols, Star Tribune, 24 May 2021 The world is cruel to people with physical disabilities in ways that are different for me. Ellen Mcgirt, Fortune, 16 Apr. 2021 In more recent years, high unemployment and the opioid crisis have been particularly cruel to the county's remaining residents. NBC News, 5 Apr. 2021 General manager Koby Altman felt that would’ve been cruel to a player who did everything the Cavs asked and handled a difficult situation with class and professionalism. Chris Fedor, cleveland, 27 Mar. 2021 The lawsuit, first filed in December, claims the prisoner-on-prisoner violence, excessive force by security staff, and failure to provide sanitary, secure, and safe conditions violate the Constitutional prohibition on cruel and unusual punishments. Mike Cason |, al, 20 May 2021 The Supreme Court rules that the execution of mentally disabled defendants violates the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. Cnn Editorial Research, CNN, 20 May 2021

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

5 Jun 2021

Cite this Entry

“Cruel.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 12 Jun. 2021.

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More Definitions for cruel



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

More from Merriam-Webster on cruel

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for cruel

Nglish: Translation of cruel for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of cruel for Arabic Speakers


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