ma·lev·o·lent | \mə-ˈle-və-lənt \

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

The slashing of Navigator funding comes on the heels of a raft of other malevolent actions aimed at the ACA. Michael Hiltzik,, "In another act of sabotage, Trump slashes Obamacare outreach funding to the bone," 10 July 2018 In a less overt – and far less malevolent way – the Democratic Establishment used leftwing identity politics in 2016 to obscure class tensions within its own tent. Eric Levitz, Daily Intelligencer, "Ocasio-Cortez Proved That ‘Identity Politics’ Is an Asset For Berniecrats," 27 June 2018 Because people do understand that technology could be very malevolent to them. Recode Staff, Recode, "Full transcript: Box CEO Aaron Levie on Recode Decode," 11 July 2018 Many of us imagine a sort of free-standing, vaguely malevolent force — created by humans, perhaps, but ever-freer of our control. David Scharfenberg,, "Why Facebook and Google should pay you for your data," 14 June 2018 Has Maggie given herself completely to the malevolent presence in her cottage? Katharine Weber, New York Times, "In Ireland, the Past Is Always Present and So Are Its Ghosts," 1 June 2018 The unstated reason for the shorter visas is that the U.S. government can keep students with malevolent intentions on a shorter leash. Jeffrey Mervis, Science | AAAS, "More restrictive U.S. policy on Chinese graduate student visas raises alarm," 11 June 2018 Searching for answers in the spirit world, Annie befriends an older woman named Joan (Ann Dowd), who helps her understand that the persistent woes the Grahams have experienced may serve a larger malevolent purpose. Noel Murray, The Verge, "Netflix’s Before I Wake is the perfect film to stream after seeing Hereditary," 8 June 2018 Shulaya is a vor of a particular kind—not the biggest or baddest on his own, but a member of a vast, malevolent network that made his operation possible. Garrett Graff, Longreads, "A Vor Never Sleeps," 5 June 2018

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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Last Updated

27 Aug 2018

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Time Traveler for malevolent

The first known use of malevolent was in 1509

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More Definitions for malevolent



English Language Learners Definition of malevolent

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


ma·lev·o·lent | \mə-ˈle-və-lənt \

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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