ma·​lev·​o·​lent mə-ˈle-və-lənt How to pronounce malevolent (audio)
: having, showing, or arising from intense often vicious ill will, spite, or hatred
: productive of harm or evil
malevolently adverb

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On the Origin of Malevolent

That malevolent begins with male- does not imply any connection with gender. The word's initial component comes ultimately from the Latin adverb male "badly"; English male "a man or a boy," by contrast, descends from the unrelated Latin noun masculus "male." Malevolent was taken into English directly from the Latin malevolens "ill-disposed, spiteful," which paired male with volens, the present participle of a verb meaning "to wish." In Latin, the combination literally meant "wishing ill." The "wishing" component of malevolent may also be found in its antonym benevolent "kind and generous" (from Latin benevolens, literally, "wishing well") and in a rare English word, somnivolency ("a sleep-inducing agent"), in which it is yoked with somni- "sleep" (from Latin somnus) in a compound literally meaning "inclination to sleep."

Examples of malevolent in a Sentence

There was no acknowledgment of the effects of cycle upon cycle of malevolent defeat, of the injury of seeing one generation rise above the cusp of poverty only to be indignantly crushed, of the impact of repeating tsunamis of violence … Douglas A. Blackmon, Slavery By Another Name, 2008
The sky looks heavy enough to sink and crush us when we see another twister bullying across the fields—a squat, malevolent-looking wedge. Priit J. Vesilind, National Geographic, April 2004
No bigger than most house cats, it is possessed of such formidable armor and malevolent mien that when the makers of the latest Godzilla epic went looking for a prototype, they selected this lizard … Peter Benchley, National Geographic, April 1999
The predominant spirit is very un-American; a kind of malevolent, drifting determinism pervades human beings who cannot, or do not want to, cope. John Fowles, Atlantic, August 1986
the novel grossly oversimplified the conflict as a struggle between relentlessly malevolent villains on one side and faultless saints on the other
Recent Examples on the Web Genre Filmmaking Movies 'The Exorcism' Review: Mixed-Bag Russell Crowe Vehicle Observes the Horror Classic From a Personal Perspective Longlegs The Bottom Line Is there a more malevolent hobby than dollmaking? David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter, 6 July 2024 Gleeson’s Puck is a malevolent hobgoblin who serves as the royal jester to King Auberon of Faerie. Denise Petski, Deadline, 2 July 2024 But not necessarily in a malevolent or purposely rude way. Felecia Wellington Radel, USA TODAY, 24 June 2024 When the disclosures are more malevolent, the image becomes increasingly gruesome. Carolyn B. Heller, Travel + Leisure, 18 June 2024 See all Example Sentences for malevolent 

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

Word History


Latin malevolent-, malevolens, from male badly + volent-, volens, present participle of velle to wish — more at mal-, will

First Known Use

1509, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of malevolent was in 1509

Dictionary Entries Near malevolent

Cite this Entry

“Malevolent.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 20 Jul. 2024.

Kids Definition


ma·​lev·​o·​lent mə-ˈlev-ə-lənt How to pronounce malevolent (audio)
: having or showing ill will : spiteful
malevolently adverb

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