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gro·​tesque grō-ˈtesk How to pronounce grotesque (audio)
: 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
: a piece of work in this style
an ornate structure, embellished with grotesques
: one that is grotesque


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

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.

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

Examples of grotesque in a Sentence

Noun a gallery of grotesques from some horror movie Adjective The actors wore dark capes and grotesque masks. a grotesque distortion of the facts
Recent Examples on the Web
The Watergate grotesques form a small portion of the weird and sometimes wacky, but always carefully curated, world of Ellison. Bethanne Patrick, Los Angeles Times, 4 June 2024 More amusingly, among the gargoyles and grotesques that dot the various towers are one in the form of a corrupt politician and another representing Darth Vader. Carolina A. Miranda, Los Angeles Times, 7 Dec. 2023
If more is not done—now, in this moment, by the people who can do it—to control this technology through laws and treaties, then what is to stop a grotesque arms race of killer robots, with lethal autonomous machines and the hanging threat of Terminator-esque war becoming normal? Kate Graham-Shaw, Scientific American, 9 July 2024 Given what is being done to him, at his own request, Beamer comes off initially as grotesque, a character out of a crueler, more satirical novel. Adelle Waldman, The Atlantic, 9 July 2024 See all Example Sentences for grotesque 

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'grotesque.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


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

First Known Use


1561, in the meaning defined at sense 1a


1603, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of grotesque was in 1561


Dictionary Entries Near grotesque

Cite this Entry

“Grotesque.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 21 Jul. 2024.

Kids Definition


: combining (as in a painting) details not found together in nature
: unnaturally odd or ugly
grotesquely adverb
grotesqueness noun


from French grotesque "relating to or being a style of art with unusual designs and combinations of figures of animals, humans, and plants," from Italian (pittura) grottesca "cave painting," from grottesca "of a cave," from grotta, grotto "cave," from Latin crypta "cavern, crypt" — related to grotto

Word Origin
Italians exploring the ruins of ancient Rome found strange paintings on the walls of some of the rooms. These paintings were of human and animal forms mixed with those of strange fruits and flowers. The Italians called such a painting pittura grottesca, which means "cave painting." The Italian adjective grottesca came from grotta, meaning "cave." We also get English grotto from this word. The Italian word grotta in turn came from the Latin crypta, which meant "cavern, crypt." The French borrowed the word grottesca from Italian and spelled it grotesque, the form in which it came into English. At first the adjective was used to describe pictures having strange combinations of things not normally found together. Later it came to be used for anything that looked weird or unnatural.

More from Merriam-Webster on grotesque

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