: 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. See More
Recent Examples on the Web Responding to the mayor’s harsh words in an interview with The New York Times, Mr. Faircloth insisted that the D.C. government desperately needed management reforms. Robert D. McFadden, BostonGlobe.com, 16 Sep. 2023 Iran’s morality police resumed headscarf patrols in July and Iranian authorities are considering a draconian new bill on hijab-wearing that experts say would enshrine unprecedentedly harsh punitive measures in law. Adam Pourahmadi, CNN, 16 Sep. 2023 Even better, the device eliminates up to 99.9 percent of bacteria without using harsh chemicals. Isabel Garcia, Peoplemag, 14 Sep. 2023 He’s also confronted with the harsh reality of transatlantic slavery. Anderson Tepper, Los Angeles Times, 13 Sep. 2023 Catholic Church should be applauded for its stance on Traditional Values even though harsh to some. cleveland, 12 Sep. 2023 Roughly 150,000 children attended the schools, according to a report from CBS News, many of whom were reportedly subjected to harsh treatment by administrators. Michael Lee, Fox News, 10 Sep. 2023 His venom is echoed by everyone from state television propagandists to politicians and, as the war has ground on, Russia has witnessed increasingly harsh measures against these groups. Robyn Dixon, Washington Post, 10 Sep. 2023 Attendees spend seven days in an isolated, harsh desert environment with limited access to outside resources and infrastructure. Zoe Sottile, CNN, 4 Sep. 2023 See More

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 23 Sep. 2023.

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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