ma·​ca·​bre mə-ˈkäb How to pronounce macabre (audio) -ˈkä-brə How to pronounce macabre (audio)
: having death as a subject : comprising or including a personalized representation of death
The macabre dance included a procession of skeletons.
: dwelling on the gruesome
a macabre presentation of a tragic story
: tending to produce horror in a beholder
this macabre procession of starving peasants

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We trace the origins of macabre to the name of the Book of Maccabees, which is included in the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox canons of the Old Testament and in the Protestant Apocrypha. Sections of this biblical text address both the deaths of faithful people asked to renounce their religion, and the manner in which the dead should be properly commemorated. In medieval France, representations of these passages were performed as a procession or dance which became known as the "dance of death" or "dance Maccabee"; the latter was spelled in several different ways, including danse de Macabré. In English, macabre was originally used in reference to this "dance of death" but then gradually broadened in use to describe anything grim or horrific. Today macabre functions as a synonym of gruesome or repulsive, always with a connection to the physical aspects of death and suffering.

Choose the Right Synonym for macabre

ghastly, grisly, gruesome, macabre, lurid mean horrifying and repellent in appearance or aspect.

ghastly suggests the terrifying aspects of corpses and ghosts.

a ghastly accident

grisly and gruesome suggest additionally the results of extreme violence or cruelty.

an unusually grisly murder
suffered a gruesome death

macabre implies a morbid preoccupation with the physical aspects of death.

a macabre tale of premature burial

lurid adds to gruesome the suggestion of shuddering fascination with violent death and especially with murder.

the lurid details of a crime

Examples of macabre in a Sentence

a macabre story of murder and madness Police discovered a macabre scene inside the house.
Recent Examples on the Web Even when the topic was as macabre and polarizing as that of a former American golden boy implicated in the grisliest of crimes. Geoff Edgers, Washington Post, 12 Apr. 2024 But the overall lack of conviction reduces content that should be alarming and macabre to the status of an unmemorable time-killer. Dennis Harvey, Variety, 11 Apr. 2024 See all Example Sentences for macabre 

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

Word History


French, from (danse) macabre dance of death, from Middle French (danse de) Macabré

First Known Use

1841, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of macabre was in 1841


Dictionary Entries Near macabre

Cite this Entry

“Macabre.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 18 Apr. 2024.

Kids Definition


ma·​ca·​bre mə-ˈkäb(-rə) How to pronounce macabre (audio) -ˈkäb-ər How to pronounce macabre (audio)
: having death as a subject
: marked by or arousing horror

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