cru·el | \ ˈkrü(-ə)l \
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 \ 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

For most of his life, Charles was a quiet daily witness that the Fates can be cruel. Fay Vincent, WSJ, "Charles Krauthammer Goes Out Like Gehrig," 10 June 2018 There are personal conflicts to mend, a cruel wilderness to survive, and a seeming army of nameless fascist punks to fight against—in a meatsuit. Julie Muncy, WIRED, "Extreme Meatpunks Forever," 11 July 2018 This is an example of darkly biting cruel Rahm humor. Ben Joravsky, Chicago Reader, "News / Politics Rahm makes a joke out of Quinn's term-limit push, but voters could have last laugh," 3 July 2018 American voters have long evinced a tacit belief that deporting law-abiding, longtime U.S. residents is a cruel and needless enterprise. Eric Levitz, Daily Intelligencer, "Abolishing ICE Is About As Popular As Trump’s Immigration Agenda," 11 July 2018 To be clear, Waters called for opponents of the administration’s cruel and unjust child separation policy to push back on Cabinet officials — with words. Crystal Marie Fleming, Vox, "Maxine Waters and the trope of the “angry black woman”," 29 June 2018 However, Naima El Gallaf, a lawyer for the activists, described Mr. Zefzafi’s sentence on her Facebook page as cruel and retaliatory. New York Times, "Moroccan Protest Leader Is Sentenced to 20 Years in Prison," 27 June 2018 But to many addicts on MAT, like David and Michael, this approach feels like cruel and needless banishment. Katrine Jo Andersen, The New Republic, "Rejected by A.A.," 27 June 2018 But, as has been confirmed year after year, play-off football is a cruel and unpredictable mistress., "Play-Offs Preview: Assessing Each Club's Chances Ahead of the Play-Off Semi Final First Legs," 11 May 2018

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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Phrases Related to cruel

cruel and unusual punishment

cruel blow

Statistics for cruel

Last Updated

17 Sep 2018

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Time Traveler for cruel

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

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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 \
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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