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

But her womanhood is a hollow, brittle performance, masking deep reserves of cruelty. Sonia Saraiya, HWD, "Sharp Objects Is Stunning, Raw, and Violently Beautiful," 5 July 2018 Another man, who got legal status in 2014, was targeted because of a conviction this year of cruelty to a child. Brittny Mejia,, "It's not just criminals — ICE is nabbing lawful permanent residents too," 28 June 2018 Another man, who got legal status in 2014, was targeted because of a conviction this year of cruelty to a child. Brittny Mejia, Hoy, "No sólo delincuentes: ICE también arresta a residentes permanentes legales," 28 June 2018 Cusk’s sternness, what some critics have even identified as a kind of cruelty, is also an expression of high expectations. Jordan Larson, The Cut, "Rachel Cusk’s Rules for Living," 25 June 2018 Dominick Tidd, 18, will be arraigned in Winchendon District Court Monday on charges of cruelty to animals, larceny under $250, and destruction of property, police said., "Groton teen charged with killing baby goat," 25 June 2018 Magdiel Marrero-Pena, 41, of Melbourne, was charged with four counts of cruelty to animals, the newspaper said. Stephen Hudak,, "'I think this guy really has some issues,' 911 caller says about Brevard man who stomped on ducklings: report," 13 June 2018 In 2016, Brent Justice, 56, was convicted of cruelty to non-livestock animals with the use of a deadly weapon enhancement, according to county prosecutors. John D. Harden, Houston Chronicle, "Sentence for Houston man involved in animal fetish videos reduced," 25 May 2018 Child abuse detectives investigated the case and a warrant was issued for Davis' arrest on one count of second-degree cruelty to a juvenile. Marie Simoneaux,, "Man accused of 'scalding' 4-year-old boy wanted for cruelty: NOPD," 14 May 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

2 Oct 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).


evasion of direct action or statement

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