cru·​el·​ty | \ ˈkrü(-ə)l-tē How to pronounce cruelty (audio) \
plural cruelties

Definition of cruelty

1 : the quality or state of being cruel
2a : a cruel action
b : inhuman treatment
3 : marital conduct held (as in a divorce action) to endanger life or health or to cause mental suffering or fear

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Examples of cruelty in a Sentence

a dictator known for his cruelty The cruelty of children can be surprising. They protested against cruelty to animals.
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Recent Examples on the Web Others released had criminal histories of assault with a deadly weapon, child cruelty, domestic violence, false imprisonment, fraud, hit and run, and other crimes. Anna Giaritelli, Washington Examiner, "California ICE officials say they're unable to detain reoffenders released because of the pandemic," 10 Dec. 2020 Ordinary people had known the state’s most savage cruelty, and its self-preserving entreaties rang hollow. Rana Dasgupta, Harper's Magazine, "The Silenced Majority," 24 Nov. 2020 Why is a word used to describe a literary technique also the word used to describe the buffoonery, the cruelty and carelessness, of contemporary political and economic life? Merve Emre, The New Yorker, "Our Love-Hate Relationship with Gimmicks," 9 Nov. 2020 Grant faces charges of risk of injury to a child, second-degree assault, intentional cruelty, disorderly conduct and reckless endangerment. Michael Ruiz, Fox News, "Connecticut boy forced to kneel on tacks, drink hot sauce; mom, stepfather arrested," 23 Oct. 2020 Strauss withdrew that proposal after a Milwaukee common council member and several residents opposed the plan, highlighting issues of pollution, animal cruelty, odor and other factors. Erik S. Hanley, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Despite resident protests and a petition, Franklin's plan commission OK'd Strauss' proposed expansion in the city," 9 Oct. 2020 This cruelty, born of envy, is a reminder of the huge rifts that can develop between factions in unjust societies — including our own. Bethanne Patrick, Washington Post, "‘A Girl Is a Body of Water’ is a poignant coming-of-age tale about women’s hard-won wisdom," 22 Sep. 2020 Does this mean that there is some essential connection between Wagner and Hitler, sublimity and cruelty, revolution and annihilation? Adam Kirsch, The New Republic, "The Problem With Redemption for Wagner," 11 Sep. 2020 Ford’s promises of free health care and fair wages were undermined by puritanical surveillance, cruelty, and incompetence. Darran Anderson, The Atlantic, "Why Every City Feels the Same Now," 24 Aug. 2020

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'cruelty.' 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 cruelty

13th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for cruelty

Middle English cruelte, from Anglo-French cruelté, from Latin crudelitat-, crudelitas, from crudelis

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Time Traveler for cruelty

Time Traveler

The first known use of cruelty was in the 13th century

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Statistics for cruelty

Last Updated

2 Mar 2021

Cite this Entry

“Cruelty.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 7 Mar. 2021.

Style: MLA
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More Definitions for cruelty



English Language Learners Definition of cruelty

: a desire to cause others to suffer : the quality or state of being cruel
: actions that cause suffering
: an act or occurrence that causes suffering


cru·​el·​ty | \ ˈkrü-əl-tē How to pronounce cruelty (audio) \
plural cruelties

Kids Definition of cruelty

1 : the quality or state of causing or wanting to cause suffering a man of cruelty
2 : treatment that causes suffering


plural cruelties

Legal Definition of cruelty

1a : an intentional or criminally negligent act that causes pain and suffering cruelty to animals cruelty to children
b : mistreatment or neglect that causes pain and suffering — compare abuse

Note: Cruelty is an aggravating circumstance to a crime (as murder).

2 : a spouse's conduct that endangers life or health or causes mental suffering or fear

called also cruel and inhuman treatment

Note: Cruelty is a ground for divorce.

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