pet·​u·​lant ˈpe-chə-lənt How to pronounce petulant (audio)
: insolent or rude in speech or behavior
: characterized by temporary or capricious ill humor : peevish
petulantly adverb

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Petulant Has Latin Roots

Petulant is one of many English words that are related to the Latin verb petere, which means "to go to," "to attack," "to seek," or "to request." "Petere" is a relative of the Latin adjective petulans ("impudent"), from which "petulant" was derived. Some other words with connections to "petere" are "compete" and "appetite." "Competere," the Late Latin precursor to "compete," is a combination of the prefix com- and the verb "petere." The joining of ad- and petere led to "appetere" ("to strive after"), and eventually to Latin appetitus, the source of our "appetite." Additional descendants of "petere" are "petition," "perpetual," and "impetus."

Examples of petulant in a Sentence

Oxford's denial of her [Margaret Thatcher's] honorary degree in 1984 was no petulant fluke but an accurate measure of her unpopularity with the whole profession. Harold Perkin, Times Literary Supplement, 26 June 1992
In the hot, petulant little cockpit she was triumphant—drunk with anger, defiance, and the beginnings of relief. Sebastian Faulks, Independent on Sunday (London), 25 Nov. 1990
Sometimes, under … rapid-fire questioning, he became petulant and quibbled over words in a way that suggested a close reading of the law. Frances FitzGerald, New Yorker, 16 Oct. 1989
Mouth petulant but its hardness in it, behind it. Looking at that mouth you felt her teeth in you … Jayne Anne Phillips, Black Tickets, (1975) 1979
Her tone was petulant and angry. a petulant and fussy man who is always blaming everyone else for his problems See More
Recent Examples on the Web Both Scott and Phoenix embrace a touch of camp, portraying the enigma that was Napoleon as a petulant brat-cum-military genius: someone who knew how to get his way on the battlefield, but resorted to food fights at home. Peter Debruge, Variety, 15 Nov. 2023 All her songs — fast tempo or slow — strike the same petulant, egotistical note. Armond White, National Review, 18 Oct. 2023 In these early passages, the parent-child dynamic feels reversed; Georgie is strict and rational while Jason is petulant. Odie Henderson,, 14 Sep. 2023 Ben is a variation of the most egregious and tiresome of independent movie tropes: the petulant, toxic cishet man-child. Odie Henderson,, 3 Aug. 2023 Brad Pitt accused of 'looting' winery assets, acting 'like a petulant child.' MyPillow auctioning off hundreds of items after retailers drop product. Laura L. Davis, USA TODAY, 11 July 2023 The energetic tyke Titcomb portrays, known as Small Alison, is funny, boisterous, petulant and gleeful at various points in this musical, a bittersweet coming-out story and family drama. Celia Wren, Washington Post, 5 July 2023 When asked, his responses boil down to the equivalent of a one-word answer from a petulant child: Mine! Clarence Page, Chicago Tribune, 13 June 2023 So the studios are in the financial squeeze of — the linear business (old-fashioned cable TV and ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, et al) is shrinking but still provides more profit than streamers, which are like petulant children — always hungry, high-maintenance and always in search of the shiny new toy. Cynthia Littleton, Variety, 15 May 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'petulant.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


Latin or Middle French; Middle French, from Latin petulant-, petulans; akin to Latin petere to go to, attack, seek — more at feather

First Known Use

1598, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of petulant was in 1598


Dictionary Entries Near petulant

Cite this Entry

“Petulant.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 4 Dec. 2023.

Kids Definition


pet·​u·​lant ˈpech-ə-lənt How to pronounce petulant (audio)
: marked by displays of rudeness or ill temper
petulantly adverb

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