\ ˈhärsh \

Definition of harsh 

1 : having a coarse uneven surface that is rough or unpleasant to the touch granite stones harsh with lichen —Nancy Hale

2a : 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

b : 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

3 : excessively critical or negative had some harsh words for her opponent a harsh critic : unduly severe in making demands harsh discipline

4 : lacking in aesthetic appeal or refinement : crude a harsh and sometimes unpleasant book, barren of pretty touches —Brendan Gill

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Other words from harsh

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.
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Recent Examples on the Web

For those graduating from Cetaphil (or anyone, really) and wary of too-harsh face cleansers, this gentle option is a dream. Allure Editors, Allure, "The Best New Beauty Products This Month," 9 July 2018 The lighting tends to be nicer, less harsh and fluorescent, than an office, and the music makes for a nice ambience. Nellie Bowles, The Seattle Times, "Sorry, power-lunchers — these tables are reserved for drop-in workers," 9 July 2018 The lighting tends to be nicer, less harsh and fluorescent, than an office, and the music makes for a nice ambience. Nellie Bowles, New York Times, "Sorry, Power-Lunchers. These Tables Are Reserved for Drop-In Workers.," 8 July 2018 Stepping off the structure, the thud of the earth beneath my feet came as a harsh, hard, reality. Claire Wolters, Philly.com, "I bounced on the world's biggest bounce house," 6 July 2018 When Tanner was sentenced, federal sentencing guidelines were harsher for crack cocaine than for other drugs, which contributed to his initial life sentence. Becky Jacobs, Post-Tribune, "Gary boxer convicted of leading gang was denied clemency by Obama, now seeks release under Trump," 6 July 2018 These issues could also be tied to using those too-harsh medications that thin out your skin, Dr. Silverberg says. Korin Miller, SELF, "Here’s Exactly What to Do About Eczema on Your Eyelid," 3 July 2018 With Democrats viewing the measure as too harsh, Republicans were left to corral a majority from within their own party. Siobhan Hughes, WSJ, "House Defeats GOP Immigration Bill," 27 June 2018 Generally, the potential sentences for drug smuggling are harsher in federal courts than in state court, though every sentence depends to an extent on the type and amount of drugs, whether the defendant has a prior record and other factors. Greg Moran, sandiegouniontribune.com, "Feds taking more drug cases to state court in wake of zero tolerance mandate," 25 June 2018

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

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for harsh

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

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Dictionary Entries near harsh






harsh-furred hare


Statistics for harsh

Last Updated

21 Sep 2018

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Time Traveler for harsh

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

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More Definitions for harsh



English Language Learners Definition of harsh

: unpleasant and difficult to accept or experience

: having an unpleasant or harmful effect because of great strength or force : too intense or powerful

: severe or cruel : not kind


\ ˈhärsh \
harsher; harshest

Kids Definition of harsh

1 : causing physical discomfort a harsh climate

2 : having an unpleasant or harmful effect often because of great force or intensity a harsh sound a harsh soap

3 : severe or cruel : not kind or lenient harsh punishment

Other words from harsh

harshly adverb
harshness noun

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