gro·​tesque | \ grō-ˈtesk How to pronounce grotesque (audio) \

Definition of grotesque

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1a : a style of decorative art characterized by fanciful or fantastic human and animal forms often interwoven with foliage or similar figures that may distort the natural into absurdity, ugliness, or caricature
b : a piece of work in this style an ornate structure, embellished with grotesques
2 : one that is grotesque



Definition of grotesque (Entry 2 of 2)

: of, relating to, or having the characteristics of the grotesque: such as
a : fanciful, bizarre a grotesque Halloween costume
b : absurdly incongruous
c : departing markedly from the natural, the expected, or the typical animals with grotesque deformities

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Other Words from grotesque


grotesquely adverb
grotesqueness noun

Synonyms & Antonyms for grotesque

Synonyms: Noun

grotesquerie (also grotesquery), monster, monstrosity, ogre

Synonyms: Adjective

grating, harsh, jarring, unaesthetic

Antonyms: Adjective

aesthetic (also esthetic)

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Choose the Right Synonym for grotesque


fantastic, bizarre, grotesque mean conceived, made, or carried out without adherence to truth or reality. fantastic may connote extravagance in conception or ingenuity of decorative invention. dreamed up fantastic rumors bizarre applies to the sensationally strange and implies violence of contrast or incongruity of combination. a bizarre medieval castle in the heart of a modern city grotesque may apply to what is conventionally ugly but artistically effective or it may connote ludicrous awkwardness or incongruity often with sinister or tragic overtones. grotesque statues on the cathedral though grieving, she made a grotesque attempt at a smile

Did You Know?


During the Italian Renaissance, Romans of culture took a great interest in their country's past and began excavating ancient buildings. During their excavations, they uncovered chambers (known in Italian as grotte, in reference to their cavelike appearance) decorated with artwork depicting fantastic combinations of human and animal forms interwoven with strange fruits and flowers. The Italian word grottesca became the name for this unique art style, and by 1561 it had mutated into the English noun "grotesque." The adjective form of "grotesque" was first used in the early 17th century to describe the decorative art but is now used to describe anything bizarre, incongruous, or unusual.

Examples of grotesque in a Sentence


a gallery of grotesques from some sicko horror movie


The actors wore dark capes and grotesque masks. a grotesque distortion of the facts
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Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

The grotesques are a delightful feature in a building that’s bristling with them. John Kelly, Washington Post, "Cloud Atlases: What are those weird sculptures atop this Kalorama building?," 23 June 2018 The sign, which went up in the 1960s, is as much a part of Tribune Tower’s identity as its Gothic grotesques and flying buttresses. Blair Kamin,, "Tribune Tower plans would energize an old landmark, but don't yet create a new one," 18 Apr. 2018 But Griffith’s revolutionary and racist techniques treated blacks as either backdrops or grotesques, never entirely human. Carlos Valladares, San Francisco Chronicle, "Argentine director Lucrecia Martel to attend Berkeley retrospective of her work," 16 Apr. 2018 After the Inferno, Neumann completed a series of grotesques in which humans do eternal battle with creatures while morphing into monsters themselves, all suspended in his signature non-space. Dmitry Samarov, Chicago Reader, "Arts / History / Visual Art ‘Otto Neumann: Modern Degenerate’ shows an artist struggling through the hopelessness of 20th century Germany," 26 Jan. 2018 Startle passersby with the silhouettes of hungry zombies clawing at your windows or dancing ghosts, or spook those brave enough to enter your home with scenes of grotesques ghouls and spooky skeletons. Courtney Campbell, Country Living, "This Halloween Projector Will Scare the Pants Off Your Neighbors," 5 Oct. 2017 Shot in the least picturesque parts of Paris and peopled with morbid eccentrics and grotesques, this picture, Zulawski’s third feature and his first made in France, is in certain respects among his most restrained. Glenn Kenny, New York Times, "Review: ‘L’Important C’est d’Aimer,’ and Its Complications," 13 July 2017 Docents show slides of the building’s whimsical and sometimes fierce stone gargoyles and grotesques, followed by an outdoor tour. Washington Post, "Religion events from around the Washington area," 14 July 2017 Shopping Cart icon Buy Photo Standing before a class of Camden teens recently, composer Hannibal Lokumbe held up two small figurines, grotesques of another era: a mammy and its male counterpart. Peter Dobrin,, "New from Hannibal: Fanfare for the Common Good," 12 June 2017

Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective

Unholy Creatures Walked Among Us Other designers preferred to explore less earthly realms, reaching for that juncture between the grotesque and gorgeous. Monica Kim, Vogue, "The 8 Beauty Takeaways of Paris Fashion Week," 6 Mar. 2019 Jet Magazine and The Chicago Defender published photos of Emmett’s corpse, his body in a dark suit and white shirt, his face grotesque. Mary Schmich,, "The painful and necessary growth Emmett Till gave us," 13 July 2018 In that situation, which would typically result in grotesque initial understeer, the Tesla somehow pivots around its inside tire and does a tight, not-especially-fast donut with a radius of one Model 3. Ezra Dyer, Popular Mechanics, "Electric Slide: We Drove the Tesla Model 3 in the Snow to See How It Fares as a Rally Car," 21 Feb. 2019 The fabled grandeur of the Plantation South has been so thoroughly (and correctly) discredited that even its refinements appear grotesque. Sam Sacks, WSJ, "Revitalizing the Southern Gothic Style," 19 July 2018 The two exhibitions were developed separately — De Jong’s sculptural figures dwell on the grotesque while Redwood’s paintings take on portraiture, landscape and still life — but work in tandem. Carolina A. Miranda,, "Datebook: Videos of the female figure, an autobiographical exhibit and paintings of immigrant terrains," 17 May 2018 Other characters fell out of step and off his pages; Widmerpool endured to the end, grotesque and almost mythic. Michael Gorra, WSJ, "‘Anthony Powell: Dancing to the Music of Time’ Review: Life’s Mysterious Patterned Way," 1 Nov. 2018 This grotesque and coordinated character assassination will dissuade competent and good people of all political persuasions from serving our country. Fox News, "Brit Hume on fallout from Kavanaugh hearing; Alan Dershowitz on Rachel Mitchell's performance," 28 Sep. 2018 This grotesque and coordinated character assassination will dissuade competent and good people of all political persuasions, from serving our country. Alvin Chang, Vox, "Every time Ford and Kavanaugh answered the question — and didn't answer the question," 28 Sep. 2018

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


1561, in the meaning defined at sense 1a


1603, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for grotesque

Noun and Adjective

Middle French & Old Italian; Middle French, from Old Italian (pittura) grottesca, literally, cave painting, feminine of grottesco of a cave, from grotta — see grotto

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The first known use of grotesque was in 1561

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More Definitions for grotesque



English Language Learners Definition of grotesque

: very strange or ugly in a way that is not normal or natural
: extremely different from what is expected or usual


gro·​tesque | \ grō-ˈtesk How to pronounce grotesque (audio) \

Kids Definition of grotesque

: unnatural in an odd or ugly way

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