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.

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

Lertwilairattanapong said the children had lost an average of 2 kg (4.4 lbs.) during the ordeal, according to CNN. Stephanie Petit, PEOPLE.com, "Thai Cave Diver's Widow Sends Message to Soccer Players: 'Please Don't Blame Yourselves'," 12 July 2018 The trapped have been receiving food, oxygen, water and medicine to help keep their alive during the ordeal. Scooby Axson, SI.com, "4 Youth Soccer Players Rescued From Thailand Cave," 8 July 2018 The ordeal was not just a physical struggle, but a mental one as well. Jessie Spangler, Aurora Beacon-News, "A fitness instructor from Aurora has set 2 world records for planking," 30 June 2018 For Coughlin, the ordeal has been personally trying and professionally devastating. Nestor Ramos, BostonGlobe.com, "Methuen woman fired for off-duty marijuana use files arbitration claim," 28 June 2018 For the handful of survivors, ​running frantically, ​the ordeal was not yet over. William Langewiesche, The Atlantic, "An Extraordinarily Expensive Way to Fight ISIS," 21 June 2018 The arguments of Trump's lawyers are also likely motivated by a long-term goal of sparing the President the ordeal of testifying under oath, a scenario many of his allies believe would be a disaster given his proclivity not to tell the truth. Stephen Collinson, CNN, "Trump's above-the-law presidency," 4 June 2018 Another officer accidentally shot himself during the ordeal and was taken to a local hospital, but his injuries were not considered life-threatening. Lyndsay Winkley, latimes.com, "Woman is arrested after shots are fired near a marathon finish line in San Diego," 3 June 2018 The woman, who remained conscious during the ordeal, was stuck. Michael Katz, idahostatesman, "Boise youth football team meets with couple they helped rescue from overturned car," 30 May 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

7 Sep 2018

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 \

Kids Definition of ordeal

: a severe test or experience

Keep scrolling for more

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).


the setting in which something occurs

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Musical Words Quiz

  • gramophone
  • Which word describes a musical performance marked by the absence of instrumental accompaniment?
How Strong Is Your Vocabulary?

Test your vocabulary with our 10-question quiz!


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!