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

Essential Meaning of malevolent

formal : having or showing a desire to cause harm to another person Her reputation has been hurt by malevolent [=malicious] gossip. a malevolent demon a malevolent lie/smile

Full Definition of malevolent

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

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 Researchers presented a framework for understanding malevolent creativity. Rafil Kroll-zaidi, Harper’s Magazine , 18 Jan. 2022 As international order frays, the U.N. is focused on enlarging impotent bureaucracies and encouraging malevolent ideological campaigns. The Editorial Board, WSJ, 27 Dec. 2021 And not just because there’s an onrushing cloud of poison gas dispensing the gift of global annihilation like a malevolent Santa working through a naughty list that includes every living person on Earth. Jessica Kiang, Los Angeles Times, 2 Dec. 2021 If an authoritarian regime is incompetent or malevolent, the bottom can be very low indeed. Ryan Cooper, The Week, 8 Nov. 2021 In The Conjuring, which is based on true events, a family of seven is terrorized by malevolent spirits shortly after moving into their Rhode Island home. Danielle Harling, House Beautiful, 25 Sep. 2021 There are frightening angels, a malevolent dragon and a pendant that holds a tear supposedly shed by Christ. Washington Post, 1 Dec. 2021 Non-malevolent uses, like satire or comedy, would remain legal, Franks says. Clive Thompson, Smithsonian Magazine, 19 Nov. 2021 Such precursor missions are only possible if a malevolent asteroid is spotted many years prior to its Earth impact date. Robin George Andrews, Scientific American, 18 Nov. 2021

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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The first known use of malevolent was in 1509

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Last Updated

25 Jan 2022

Cite this Entry

“Malevolent.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 27 Jan. 2022.

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More Definitions for malevolent


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

More from Merriam-Webster on malevolent

Nglish: Translation of malevolent for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of malevolent for Arabic Speakers


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