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

Other Words from grotesque


grotesquely adverb
grotesqueness noun

Synonyms & Antonyms for grotesque

Synonyms: Noun

Synonyms: Adjective

Antonyms: Adjective

Visit the Thesaurus for More 

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

Noun a gallery of grotesques from some sicko horror movie Adjective The actors wore dark capes and grotesque masks. a grotesque distortion of the facts
Recent Examples on the Web: Noun Unironic emotion is weak at best, grotesque at worst, and always to be hidden. Kelsey Ables, Washington Post, 8 July 2022 Fittingly, for someone now famous as a writer of the grotesque, Sorokin was introduced to the group by his dentist. Jennifer Wilson, Harper’s Magazine , 25 May 2022 First, there’s their dependence on accessibility and the embrace of forms of entertainment, even grotesque and burlesque entertainment. Adam Gopnik, The New Yorker, 16 May 2022 The antics range from childlike—the boys don panda suits for a romp through Tokyo—to grotesque and life-threatening. Travis Bean, Forbes, 30 Apr. 2022 And around this grotesque and horrible mask of death, the hair, the beautiful hair, still blazed like sunlight and flowed in a stream of gold. Namwali Serpell, The New York Review of Books, 6 July 2022 Yet Wyndham always takes care to dampen the grotesque and freakish elements of his stories. Sam Sacks, WSJ, 22 Apr. 2022 This grotesque and coordinated character assassination will dissuade competent and good people of all political persuasions from serving our country. Joan Biskupic, CNN, 20 Mar. 2022 Skewing toward the absurd, the grotesque, sometimes the scatological, her books often center on drug- or alcohol-addicted protagonists mired in their own misery. Annabel Graham, WSJ, 9 June 2022 Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective Miles Mykkanen was uproarious, but not grotesque, as the opera’s two old women; Julie Roset was an alert Amore; and there was subtle supporting work from Laurence Kilsby, Yannis François and Riccardo Romeo. New York Times, 12 July 2022 The prospect of his style being too widely (and inevitably poorly) imitated is grotesque. Jessica Ferri, Los Angeles Times, 27 June 2022 Continuing to send him vast amounts of money for fossil fuels (more on which in the news blurbs below) would only set up worse problems down the line—and would of course be morally grotesque, given that the cash is funding slaughter in Ukraine. David Meyer, Fortune, 20 May 2022 The sight is grotesque in its physical closeness and touching in its metaphysical distance. Merve Emre, The New Yorker, 7 Feb. 2022 The Fly, all of which found grotesque things happening to the human form. Clark Collis,, 4 June 2022 Frankenstein and his creation fused together in one grotesque insectoid body. Adam Nayman, The New Yorker, 3 June 2022 Her vendetta may turn out to be as terrifying as the grotesque violence of her enemies. Joan Macdonald, Forbes, 3 June 2022 Their branding is literally eyeballs popping out and worms crawling and other horrible, grotesque visuals. Bon Appétit, 20 Apr. 2022 See More

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.

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

Learn More About grotesque

Time Traveler for grotesque

Time Traveler

The first known use of grotesque was in 1561

See more words from the same year

Listen to Our Podcast About grotesque

Dictionary Entries Near grotesque




See More Nearby Entries 

Statistics for grotesque

Last Updated

6 Aug 2022

Cite this Entry

“Grotesque.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 13 Aug. 2022.

Style: MLA
MLACheck Mark Icon ChicagoCheck Mark Icon APACheck Mark Icon Merriam-WebsterCheck Mark Icon

More Definitions for grotesque


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

Kids Definition of grotesque

: unnatural in an odd or ugly way

More from Merriam-Webster on grotesque

Nglish: Translation of grotesque for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of grotesque for Arabic Speakers Encyclopedia article about grotesque


Test Your Vocabulary

Commonly Confused Words Quiz

  • vector image of a face with thought expression
  • I went to the ______ store to buy a birthday card.
Name That Thing

Test your visual vocabulary with our 10-question challenge!

Universal Daily Crossword

A daily challenge for crossword fanatics.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!