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

Artificial intelligence systems have been set up to filter speech that is cruel. Nicholas Thompson, WIRED, "Zuckerberg Defends Free Speech, Even When the Speech is False," 26 June 2019 The lawsuit alleges eleven counts against the City and Cranley, including violation of the plaintiffs’ First Amendment rights, unreasonable search and seizure and cruel and unusual punishment. Maia Anderson,, "'I was no longer allowed to be anywhere.' After Cincinnati homeless camp closed, here's what happened.," 21 June 2019 Men at Sea The saga, as Melville fans know, tells the aboard-ship tale of young, robust Billy, who joins the crew of the British cutter Indomitable in 1797, undeterred by its notoriously cruel treatment of the crew. Ray Mark Rinaldi, The Know, "Review: A 1951 opera is making a comeback because it’s, you know, a little gay," 21 June 2019 To reject North Macedonia without even trying to reach an agreement would be cruel, self-defeating and wrong. The Economist, "The EU must keep its promise to North Macedonia," 13 June 2019 The state surely could have made an accommodation, and refusing to do so under the circumstances seems unnecessarily cruel. Luke Goodrich, WSJ, "The Supreme Court Isn’t Anti-Muslim," 12 Feb. 2019 The King Amendment was designed to combat a recent trend: voters in states like Massachusetts and California have started prohibiting certain cruel practices, not just on farms in those states but any farms that want to sell their products there. Kelsey Piper, Vox, "Dog and cat meat is now, finally, illegal," 18 Dec. 2018 The cruel practice has moved artists like Lin-Manuel Miranda, John Legend and Common to speak out against the current administration and its immigration policies while encouraging their fans and fellow citizens to act. Hilary Hughes, Billboard, "Selena Gomez, Alicia Keys, Chrissy Teigen & More Rally to Support #FamiliesBelongTogether March," 30 June 2018 But Kennedy never mentioned that Johnson was such a cruel and aggressive racist. Jay Mathews, Washington Post, "Debates over history remain very much in the present — and in the classroom," 20 June 2019

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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Statistics for cruel

Last Updated

9 Jul 2019

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Time Traveler for cruel

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

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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

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More from Merriam-Webster on cruel

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with cruel

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for cruel

Spanish Central: Translation of cruel

Nglish: Translation of cruel for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of cruel for Arabic Speakers

Comments on cruel

What made you want to look up cruel? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


to complain fretfully

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