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

That groundedness in the soil of natural life is, perhaps, an implicit admission that the treatment of African Americans has been so bizarre and grotesque that fantastical enhancements are unnecessary. Ron Charles, Dallas News, "In Colson Whitehead's 'The Nickel Boys,' an idealistic black teen learns a harsh reality," 9 July 2019 But as with so many chic cults, there is unfathomably grotesque violence and brutality lurking underneath the Instagram-worthy aesthetics. Lindsey Bahr, Detroit Free Press, "Horror film ‘Midsommar’ casts a disorienting spell on audiences," 3 July 2019 The enormous chamber holds more than Mardi Gras floats; around them are beautiful or beautifully grotesque figures brighter and generally larger than life. John Bordsen, USA TODAY, "Mardi Gras World: Experience Fat Tuesday whenever you feel like visiting New Orleans," 28 June 2019 She is usually portrayed as a hideous clawed mother goddess, decked out in writhing serpents, with a grotesque necklace of dangling human hearts, skulls, and hands. Victor Davis Hanson, National Review, "The Cowardly Incoherence of Name-Changing, Statue-Toppling, and other Iconoclasms," 25 June 2019 Even if the school is rebuilt, don’t expect an end to grotesque behavior. Krista Kafer, The Denver Post, "Kafer: Don’t raze Columbine High School; hold trespassers accountable," 20 June 2019 Preachers began to tell anecdotes about deceitful Jewish misers who consorted with the devil; artists began to visualize such tales in grotesque and frightening detail, endowing their Jewish villains with distinctively fleshy and bestial features. Sara Lipton, The New York Review of Books, "A Terribly Durable Myth," 17 June 2019 Get our daily newsletter Together these encapsulated why the Russian world remains so fascinating and essential a subject—the geographical and moral scale, the grotesque suffering and misrule, the bravery, the ideas and the impact on everybody else. A.d.m., The Economist, "The agony and the ecstasy of Russian culture," 14 June 2019 Meanwhile, the non-Splash Brothers are shooting a grotesque 26 percent from beyond the arc. Dieter Kurtenbach, The Mercury News, "Kurtenbach: The big thing that must happen if the Warriors are to come back from a 3-1 NBA Finals deficit," 10 June 2019

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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