or·​deal | \ȯr-ˈdē(-ə)l, ˈȯr-ˌdē(-ə)l\

Definition of ordeal 

1 : a primitive means used to determine guilt or innocence by submitting the accused to dangerous or painful tests believed to be under supernatural control ordeal by fire ordeal by water

2 : a severe trial or experience Being trapped in an elevator was a harrowing ordeal for the shoppers.

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Synonyms for ordeal


cross, crucible, fire, gauntlet (also gantlet), trial

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Examples of ordeal in a Sentence

the hikers were finally rescued after a three-day ordeal in the wilderness

Recent Examples on the Web

With the captain's chairs in the second row, getting through to the third row is not much of an ordeal. Eric Bangeman, Ars Technica, "Safety first, last, and always: The Subaru Ascent, reviewed," 25 Oct. 2018 Now, the heavy metal legend has revealed the full extent of the painful and terrifying ordeal in an interview with Rolling Stone. Carolyn L. Todd, SELF, "Ozzy Osbourne Underwent Hand Surgery to Treat Multiple Staph Infections: ‘It Was Agony’," 23 Oct. 2018 During the ordeal, her father took the car on an 80-mile trip from his home in Kilmarnock to see a friend in Girvan on the Scottish coast. Gary Gastelu, Fox News, "Cat survives being stuck in car grille for 9 days," 6 Aug. 2018 Hell, my kid, who didn’t even touch the dog during this ordeal, was sent home from school for stinking up the place. Sarah Cody, courant.com, "The Day The Dog Stank, Mom Was Clueless And The Boy Got Sent Home," 19 May 2018 Ten of the Atlantic white-sided dolphins survived the ordeal and were eventually released into the ocean at Herring Cove. Emily Sweeney, BostonGlobe.com, "Rescuers work to save dolphins stranded on Cape Cod; 10 released into ocean," 10 July 2018 Smart, who is married with two children and pregnant with a third, has written a book about the harrowing ordeal and recently helped make a Lifetime movie and documentary about the crime and her life. Brady Mccombs, Fox News, "Elizabeth Smart kidnapper denied early prison release," 3 July 2018 The Warmbiers, however, have publicly expressed the view that their son was subjected to physical ordeal, and the parents have sued North Korea for causing Otto's death. Anne Saker, Cincinnati.com, "Otto Warmbier's parents: 'Hopefully something good' will come of Trump-Kim summit," 12 June 2018 The study is the largest ever done of breast cancer treatment, and the results are expected to spare up to 70,000 patients a year in the United States and many more elsewhere the ordeal and expense of these drugs. The Washington Post, NOLA.com, "Five dead, nearly 200 sick in E. coli outbreak from lettuce. And investigators are stumped.," 3 June 2018

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

before the 12th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for ordeal

Middle English ordal, from Old English ordāl; akin to Old High German urteil judgment, Old English dāl division — more at deal

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Dictionary Entries near ordeal





ordeal bark

ordeal bean

ordeal tree

Statistics for ordeal

Last Updated

16 Nov 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for ordeal

The first known use of ordeal was before the 12th century

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More Definitions for ordeal



English Language Learners Definition of ordeal

: an experience that is very unpleasant or difficult


or·​deal | \ȯr-ˈdēl \

Kids Definition of ordeal

: a severe test or experience

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Comments on ordeal

What made you want to look up ordeal? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


noxious or harmful

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