: having a coarse uneven surface that is rough or unpleasant to the touch
granite stones harsh with lichenNancy Hale
: causing a disagreeable or painful sensory reaction : irritating
harsh colors
harsh lighting
her harsh high-pitched voice
The horseradish was too harsh for the children.
: overly intense or powerful
harsh chemicals
: physically discomforting
The climate there is very harsh.
a harsh winter
: unpleasant and difficult to accept or experience
the harsh realities of poverty
a harsh reminder of the importance of wearing a seat belt
: excessively critical or negative
had some harsh words for her opponent
a harsh critic
: unduly severe in making demands
harsh discipline
: lacking in aesthetic appeal or refinement : crude
a harsh and sometimes unpleasant book, barren of pretty touchesBrendan Gill
harshly adverb
harshness noun
Choose the Right Synonym for harsh

rough, harsh, uneven, rugged, scabrous mean not smooth or even.

rough implies points, bristles, ridges, or projections on the surface.

a rough wooden board

harsh implies a surface or texture distinctly unpleasant to the touch.

a harsh fabric that chafes the skin

uneven implies a lack of uniformity in height, breadth, or quality.

an old house with uneven floors

rugged implies irregularity or roughness of land surface and connotes difficulty of travel.

a rugged landscape

scabrous implies scaliness or prickliness of surface.

a scabrous leaf

Examples of harsh in a Sentence

The climate there is very harsh. We've had an extremely harsh winter. It's time for her to face the harsh realities of this situation. The accident serves as a harsh reminder of the importance of wearing a seat belt. The lighting in the room was very harsh. The state has established harsh penalties for drug dealers. She has been criticized for her harsh treatment of her students. He was sentenced to a harsh prison term. He had harsh words for his opponent. She has faced some extremely harsh criticism.
Recent Examples on the Web Not only is the shirt constructed with flat seams to avoid chafing and irritation on the trails, but the material also boasts UPF 40+ to protect your skin from harsh rays if the rain decides to clear. Merrell Readman, Travel + Leisure, 1 Apr. 2024 In many states, reform advocates and student activists pushing to ban harsh discipline policies have found a receptive audience in lawmakers. Sarah Butrymowicz, USA TODAY, 31 Mar. 2024 His remarks in Spanish weren’t as long — but were harsher. Gustavo Arellano, Los Angeles Times, 29 Mar. 2024 While many ice plunges advertise themselves as backyard-friendly, this is the only one professionally rated for outdoor use, featuring a robust military-grade exterior fortified with durable coatings to endure even the harshest environments. Variety Staff, Variety, 28 Mar. 2024 But for climber Alex Honnold, some such places, found in the harshest and most unforgiving of environments, still exist and are ripe for adventure. Amy Woodyatt, CNN, 25 Mar. 2024 Hunter would learn, for example, that her cousin, Józef, was born in a Siberian labor camp, and that his mother used her breast milk to keep his eyes from freezing in the harsh weather. Carly Tagen-Dye, Peoplemag, 24 Mar. 2024 McDaniel has been a Trump lackey of the first order, a 2020 election denier and a harsh critic of the media, NBC and MSNBC in particular. Bill Goodykoontz, The Arizona Republic, 24 Mar. 2024 Both of them reflect Jude’s disdain for the ways people inoculate themselves from harsh truths in order to enjoy a false, sunnier version of life. Tim Grierson, Los Angeles Times, 20 Mar. 2024

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

Word History


Middle English harsk, of Scandinavian origin; akin to Norwegian harsk harsh

First Known Use

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of harsh was in the 14th century

Dictionary Entries Near harsh

Cite this Entry

“Harsh.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/harsh. Accessed 15 Apr. 2024.

Kids Definition


: disagreeable to the touch
: causing discomfort or pain
: making many or difficult demands : severe
harsh discipline
: not pleasant to the artistic sense
harsh colors
harshly adverb
harshness noun

More from Merriam-Webster on harsh

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