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

Did you know?

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."

Example Sentences

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 Training employees on the safe and responsible use of generative AI is also crucial, as well as ensuring that the results are neither malevolent nor fraudulent. Terence Jackson, Forbes, 19 Apr. 2023 If a new, highly anticipated play opening in New York Wednesday by Will Arbery is to be believed, the answer is Hydronic Pavement Heating, a malevolent technology designed to save city budgets and put salt spreaders out of business. Chris Jones, Chicago Tribune, 16 Nov. 2022 The website Know Your Meme lists several examples, including a parody news report linking a malevolent video game character to Russia. Kate S. Petersen, USA TODAY, 17 Aug. 2022 There’s part of me in [the gleefully malevolent medical professional] Dr. Glock. Peter Strickland Wants, Vulture, 26 June 2022 And most don’t require a malevolent dictator to bring them to full fruition. IEEE Spectrum, 3 Jan. 2022 Pissarides said the technology could still take a malevolent turn, such as being used for surveillance or invading privacy. Bloomberg, Fortune, 5 Apr. 2023 When Newitz set out to imagine the details of an exotic fantasy world, where a malevolent corporation seeks to remodel a planet into a better version of Earth, the first step was talking to actual scientists. Los Angeles Times, 28 Mar. 2023 The Sith are the malevolent enemies of the do-gooding Jedi. John Leicester, ajc, 28 Mar. 2023 See More

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 28 May. 2023.

Kids Definition


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

More from Merriam-Webster on malevolent

Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!