or·​deal | \ ȯr-ˈdē(-ə)l How to pronounce ordeal (audio) , 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.

Keep scrolling for more

Synonyms for ordeal


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

Visit the Thesaurus for More 

Examples of ordeal in a Sentence

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

Recent Examples on the Web

The ordeal for the boys and their soccer coach began more than two weeks ago. latimes.com, "Today: A Mile-Long Dive Through Peril," 9 July 2018 In 1988, a 15-day hijacking ordeal began as gunmen forced a Kuwait Airways jumbo jet to land in Iran. Staff, cleveland.com, "Comment here on cleveland.com court and crime stories for Thursday, April 5, 2018," 5 Apr. 2018 In 1988, a 15-day hijacking ordeal began as gunmen forced a Kuwait Airways jumbo jet to land in Iran. azcentral, "AZ Memo: Phoenix Union board considers backing #RedForEd; Light-rail extension approved," 5 Apr. 2018 The ordeal began at 6:55 p.m. Wednesday, when police received the citywide call of an active shooter at the hospital. Carol Robinson, AL.com, "UAB Highlands shooting: Longtime nursing supervisor killed by disgruntled worker," 15 Mar. 2018 The ordeal began Tuesday when Kara Swindle went to retrieve Irgo at a United Airlines cargo facility in Kansas City. Marlena Baldacci And Joe Sterling, CNN, "Dog bound for Kansas mistakenly shipped to Japan via United Airlines," 14 Mar. 2018 While the results don’t turn out the way Boyce hoped, his own moral compass sees him through the entire ordeal of this film. Bryan Bishop, The Verge, "Overlord is a gloriously entertaining piece of B-movie schlock," 9 Nov. 2018 But many of the research producers that strike contracts with the teaching hospitals won’t have to go through the competitive ordeal. Sam Wood, Philly.com, "Marijuana growers seek to extinguish Pa. research program," 19 Apr. 2018 Divya Going through this whole ordeal warrants a hug. Melissa Schorr, BostonGlobe.com, "Blind date: ‘He tried to convince me the newest Star Wars movie was bad’," 12 Apr. 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.

See More

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

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about ordeal

Dictionary Entries near ordeal





ordeal bark

ordeal bean

ordeal tree

Statistics for ordeal

Last Updated

18 May 2019

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for ordeal

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

See more words from the same century

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for ordeal



English Language Learners Definition of ordeal

: an experience that is very unpleasant or difficult


or·​deal | \ ȯr-ˈdēl How to pronounce ordeal (audio) \

Kids Definition of ordeal

: a severe test or experience

Keep scrolling for more

More from Merriam-Webster on ordeal

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with ordeal

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for ordeal

Spanish Central: Translation of ordeal

Nglish: Translation of ordeal for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of ordeal for Arabic Speakers

Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about ordeal

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).


to speak slightingly about or to degrade

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Challenging Vocabulary Quiz Returns!

  • stylized drawing of woman pole vaulting across gap to get trophy
  • Which is a synonym of fuliginous?
How Strong Is Your Vocabulary?

Test your vocabulary with our 10-question quiz!

Dictionary Devil

Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

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