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 Animal rights advocates say the sport is cruel and should be stopped. Phil Diehl, San Diego Union-Tribune, "Losses continue to mount at Del Mar Fairgrounds," 20 Dec. 2020 The need to be cruel by some people will always amaze me. Kelly Corbett, House Beautiful, "Fans Stand By Erin Napier After She Received "Cruel Comments" About Her Daughter's Hair," 16 Dec. 2020 Living from court to court ruling, on the whims of politicians or which way the wind is blowing, is cruel. Dianne Solis, Dallas News, "Will DACA survive the litigation roller coaster?," 11 Dec. 2020 Ultimately, the magistrate didn’t agree that Bambi’s solitude was cruel. Chris Perkins,, "How a solitary cow grazing on a million-dollar property cause a beef between a church and the county," 5 Dec. 2020 According to Yale, her curiosity to understand how a person could be cruel led to trying to understand Hitler. Ashley Chervinski,, "Can We Ever Really Know Why Ted Bundy Killed? Well, Dr. Dorothy Lewis Just Might," 18 Nov. 2020 The President said things about your late husband that were cruel. Nicole Goodkind, Fortune, "Elijah Cummings has a message for voters ‘from beyond the grave’," 21 Oct. 2020 Mavin Carter-Griffin, a 55-year-old homeless woman who has lived at an encampment at Wood Street in West Oakland for eight years, said the new policy is cruel. Sarah Ravani,, "Oakland weighs banning homeless camps near homes, businesses, schools," 16 Oct. 2020 Monte Burke finds his in Tom Evans, a wealthy New York stockbroker, a former athlete and the child of an emotionally abusive father (cruel or absent fathers are phenomena Mr. Burke finds common in this particular world). Richard Adams Carey, WSJ, "‘Lords of the Fly’ Review: Long Live the Silver King!," 2 Oct. 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

12 Jan 2021

Cite this Entry

“Cruel.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 21 Jan. 2021.

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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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