ma·​lev·​o·​lent | \ mə-ˈle-və-lənt How to pronounce malevolent (audio) \

Definition of malevolent

1 : having, showing, or arising from intense often vicious ill will, spite, or hatred
2 : productive of harm or evil

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Other Words from malevolent

malevolently adverb

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
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Recent Examples on the Web Modern comedies, meanwhile, feature a lot of doofuses — sometimes lovable (Michael Scott), occasionally malevolent (Gob Bluth) — with unearned self-confidence. Sarah Rodman,, "Jason Sudeikis and his Ted Lasso costars on making the feel-good TV hit of 2020," 27 Nov. 2020 The crew of an interstellar ship battles a malevolent force in this sci-fi thriller. Los Angeles Times, "Yes, Virginia, there are movies this holiday season. Here’s where to find them," 19 Nov. 2020 Why are all the adults in the story—save, perhaps, one or two—malevolent? Willing Davidson, The New Yorker, "Rebecca Curtis on Fantasy and Reality," 9 Nov. 2020 For Biden to have done this, willingly and willfully, is malevolent, if not demented. Jack Fowler, National Review, "Biden, Never," 30 Oct. 2020 Nearly half called on viewers to do their own research and use freedom of choice to protect themselves from malevolent actors. Fernanda Ferreira, Science | AAAS, "Antivaccine videos slip through YouTube’s advertising policies, new study finds," 2 Nov. 2020 She’d been regarded as little more than a malevolent bloated bag of wind; an entertaining butt of late-night jokes, which would quickly blow itself out. Steve West,, "A metaphor for destruction | Opinion," 16 Oct. 2020 Will the malevolent energy that struck the Brookhants School poison the cast reenacting those old tragedies? Washington Post, "Emily M. Danforth’s ‘Plain Bad Heroines’ mixes up a delectable brew of gothic horror and Hollywood satire," 15 Oct. 2020 The very landscape seems to be in collusion with whatever malevolent forces spirited Brendan away. Washington Post, "Tana French’s ‘The Searcher’ nods to John Ford’s famous Western with the story of a loner on the hunt for a lost teen," 5 Oct. 2020

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

1509, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for malevolent

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

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Time Traveler for malevolent

Time Traveler

The first known use of malevolent was in 1509

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Statistics for malevolent

Last Updated

2 Dec 2020

Cite this Entry

“Malevolent.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 4 Dec. 2020.

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More Definitions for malevolent


How to pronounce malevolent (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of malevolent

formal : having or showing a desire to cause harm to another person


ma·​lev·​o·​lent | \ mə-ˈle-və-lənt How to pronounce malevolent (audio) \

Kids Definition of malevolent

: having or showing a desire to cause harm to another person Christy and Megan … were whispering over on the other side of the room and casting malevolent looks in Mary Lou's direction.— Sharon Creech, Walk Two Moons

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