: a nether world in which the dead continue to exist : hades
: the nether realm of the devil and the demons in which condemned people suffer everlasting punishment
often used in curses
go to hell
or as a generalized term of abuse
the hell with it
Christian Science : error sense 2b, sin
: a place or state of misery, torment, or wickedness
war is hellW. T. Sherman
: a place or state of turmoil or destruction
all hell broke loose
: a severe scolding
also : flak, grief
gave me hell for coming in late
: unrestrained fun or sportiveness
the kids were full of hell
often used in the phrase for the hell of it especially to suggest action on impulse or without a serious motive
decided to go for the hell of it
: an extremely unpleasant and often inescapable situation
rush-hour hell
archaic : a tailor's receptacle
used as an interjection
hell, I don't know!
or as an intensive
hurts like hell
funny as hell
often used in the phrase hell of a
it was one hell of a good fight
or hell out of
scared the hell out of him
or with the or in
moved way the hell up north
what in hell is wrong, now?
from hell
: being the worst or most dreadful of its kind
a vacation from hell
hell on
: very hard on or destructive to
the constant traveling is hell on your digestive system
hell or high water
: difficulties of whatever kind or size
will stand by her convictions come hell or high water
hell to pay
: dire consequences
if he's late there'll be hell to pay
what the hell
used interjectionally to express a lack of concern about consequences or risks
it might cost him half his estate … but what the hellN. W. Aldrich born 1935

Examples of hell in a Sentence

Getting the loan approved was pure hell. He went through hell during his divorce. She had to go through hell to get where she is today. Living with the disease can be a hell on earth. The pain has made her life a living hell.
Recent Examples on the Web However, his message of inclusion and his denial of hell has become a model, and his impact in gospel music continues to inspire new generations of artists. Meagan Jordan, Rolling Stone, 23 Nov. 2023 This is her name for the seventh circle of hell from Dante’s Inferno, where the souls of those who’ve committed suicide become trees, and harpies peck at them for all eternity. Sara Holdren, Vulture, 21 Nov. 2023 Yes, in that vortex of traffic hell that expands and contracts like a squeezebox between those magical congestion hours of 7 to 9 a.m. and 3 to 7 p.m. Lucas Kwan Peterson, Los Angeles Times, 10 Nov. 2023 If divorce tends to be hell, divorce in a foreign country with a child involved is the ninth circle, particularly when your partner plays the one card that will never be in your hand. Caitlin Gunther, Condé Nast Traveler, 2 Nov. 2023 In Dante Alighieri's Inferno, Satan is described with bat wings that freeze hell over with a simple flap of the wings. Elizabeth Gamillo, Discover Magazine, 31 Oct. 2023 As one scientist told me, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Soumya Karlamangla, New York Times, 31 Oct. 2023 Good pals, make good on their promise to rock your face off! 5 Darker Circles, The Sadies So much beauty and sadness in country-psych-reverb-spider webs of heaven and hell. Liza Lentini, SPIN, 27 Oct. 2023 So, the next time someone gives you hell for rocking socks and sandals? Christian Allaire, Vogue, 2 Nov. 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'hell.' 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 helle, going back to Old English hell, helle, going back to Germanic *haljō (whence also Old Saxon hellia "abode of the dead," Old High German hella, hellia, Old Norse hel "abode of the dead, the death goddess," Gothic halja, translating Greek Háidēs), perhaps from an o-grade nominal derivative of the Germanic verbal base *hel- "cover, hide" — more at conceal

Note: The connection with *hel- "conceal" is traditional in the etymological literature, though given that the literal meaning of *haljō, the mythological abode of the dead, is unknown, it must be regarded as speculative.

First Known Use

before the 12th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a(1)

Time Traveler
The first known use of hell was before the 12th century

Dictionary Entries Near hell

Cite this Entry

“Hell.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/hell. Accessed 10 Dec. 2023.

Kids Definition


: a place where souls are believed to survive after death
: the place or state of punishment for the wicked after death : the home of evil spirits
: a place or condition of misery or wickedness
: a place or state of great confusion, disorder, or destruction : havoc, pandemonium
: something that causes torment
especially : a severe scolding

Biographical Definition


biographical name

Stefan (Walter) 1962–     German (Romanian-born) chemist

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