cru·​el·​ty | \ˈkrü(-ə)l-tē \
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

The attempts to normalize and explain away bullying are also of the moment, and so are the insincere attempts to pretend to care, which fall by the side when shock and cruelty are far easier to achieve. Graeme Mcmillan, The Verge, "The TV reboot of Heathers was doomed from the start," 31 Oct. 2018 The pressure to be thin is ubiquitous in America, and those who are not can face heartbreaking cruelty. Eileen Reslen, Town & Country, "Megyn Kelly's Most Controversial Moments Ever," 26 Oct. 2018 Kratz claimed that the series glossed over Avery’s alleged animal cruelty. German Lopez, Vox, "The first season was a huge hit, and quite a bit has happened since it premiered.," 18 Oct. 2018 Trump’s supporters don’t feel bad about laughing at egregious cruelty towards women or people of color because, as far as they’re concerned, those people are actively attacking them. Jennifer Wright, Harper's BAZAAR, "We're Living in a Time of Cruel Laughing Men," 17 Oct. 2018 Alberto Medina, 25, was found guilty of murder, arson, burglary and animal cruelty in connection with the death of Andrea DelVesco. Fox News, "Killer who stabbed UCLA student 19 times gets life sentence without parole," 22 Sep. 2018 The case is now an open felony animal cruelty investigation. Sophia Eppolito,, "Chihuahua left in dog carrier dies of heatstroke," 11 July 2018 Lorenzo Kelley, 20; Nuno Camara, Jr., 18; and Jared Jorge, 21 — all of Taunton — each face one count of animal cruelty, police said in a statement., "New England news in brief," 13 July 2018 The court has protected videos of animal cruelty, hateful protests at military funerals, violent video games and lies about military awards, often by lopsided margins. Adam Liptak, New York Times, "How Conservatives Weaponized the First Amendment," 30 June 2018

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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Statistics for cruelty

Last Updated

13 Nov 2018

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Time Traveler for cruelty

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

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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 \
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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More from Merriam-Webster on cruelty

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for cruelty

Spanish Central: Translation of cruelty

Nglish: Translation of cruelty for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of cruelty for Arabic Speakers

Comments on cruelty

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


to clear from alleged fault or guilt

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