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

Flooded streets turned a 15-minute drive into an ordeal lasting more than two hours. Author: Chevel Johnson, Janet Mcconnaughey, Anchorage Daily News, "Flooding swamps New Orleans; possible hurricane coming next," 11 July 2019 Flooded streets turned a 15-minute drive into an ordeal lasting more than two hours. Chevel Johnson, chicagotribune.com, "Storm floods streets of New Orleans, which could soon face a hurricane," 10 July 2019 Her 7-minute ride home from the store can sometimes be a 45-minute ordeal. Stephen Hudak, orlandosentinel.com, "Traffic jams at Wekiwa Springs to get $1M fix — but not till winter," 3 July 2019 Even with the recent softening of the real estate market, finding a place to hang your hat can be an ordeal. Karen D'souza, The Mercury News, "Nearly half of renters wish they owned, study says," 3 July 2019 Rafi Letzer at LiveScience reports that Jean de Joinville, who chronicled the crusade, described the crusaders' gory ordeal. Jason Daley, Smithsonian, "Fear of Foreign Food May Have Led to the Death of This Crusader King," 26 June 2019 Local souvenir shopkeepers said that the boys' ordeal has increased their fortunes. NBC News, "Thai soccer team marks anniversary of cave ordeal with run," 23 June 2019 Getting the church to Magnolia Market will be an ordeal—the structure has an addition of a few rooms and a basement, and the steeple may even have to be removed and reattached during its big move. Elizabeth Gulino, House Beautiful, "Chip and Joanna Are Literally Transporting a Historic Church to Magnolia Market," 19 June 2019 What was supposed to be a quick, three-month freshening has turned into a year-long ordeal for Ferro and his brother Carl, who have owned Nick’s since 1980. Michael Mayo, sun-sentinel.com, "When will Nick’s Bar on Hollywood beach finally reopen? Not by July 4, disappointed owner says," 11 June 2019

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

13 Jul 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).


a small bunch of flowers

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Farm Idioms Quiz

  • cow coming home
  • What does 'poke' refer to in the expression 'pig in a poke'?
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?

Word Winder's CrossWinder

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!