re·​frac·​to·​ry | \ ri-ˈfrak-t(ə-)rē How to pronounce refractory (audio) \

Definition of refractory

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 : resisting control or authority : stubborn, unmanageable
2a : resistant to treatment or cure a refractory lesion
b : unresponsive to stimulus
c : immune, insusceptible after recovery they were refractory to infection
3 : difficult to fuse, corrode, or draw out especially : capable of enduring high temperature


plural refractories

Definition of refractory (Entry 2 of 2)

: a refractory person or thing especially : a heat-resisting ceramic material

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Other Words from refractory


refractorily \ ri-​ˈfrak-​t(ə-​)rə-​lē How to pronounce refractory (audio) ; ˌrē-​ˌfrak-​ˈtȯr-​ə-​lē , ri-​ \ adverb
refractoriness \ ri-​ˈfrak-​t(ə-​)rē-​nəs How to pronounce refractory (audio) \ noun

Choose the Right Synonym for refractory


unruly, ungovernable, intractable, refractory, recalcitrant, willful, headstrong mean not submissive to government or control. unruly implies lack of discipline or incapacity for discipline and often connotes waywardness or turbulence of behavior. unruly children ungovernable implies either an escape from control or guidance or a state of being unsubdued and incapable of controlling oneself or being controlled by others. ungovernable rage intractable suggests stubborn resistance to guidance or control. intractable opponents of the hazardous-waste dump refractory stresses resistance to attempts to manage or to mold. special schools for refractory children recalcitrant suggests determined resistance to or defiance of authority. acts of sabotage by a recalcitrant populace willful implies an obstinate determination to have one's own way. a willful disregard for the rights of others headstrong suggests self-will impatient of restraint, advice, or suggestion. a headstrong young cavalry officer

Did You Know?


Refractory is from the Latin word refractarius. During the 17th century, it was sometimes spelled as refractary, but that spelling, though more in keeping with its Latin parent, had fallen out of use by the century's end. Refractarius, like refractory, is the result of a slight variation in spelling. It stems from the Latin verb refragari, meaning "to oppose."

Examples of refractory in a Sentence

Adjective refractory players will be ejected from the game believing that rules are only for other people, he's been refractory virtually his entire life
Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective Global biotech Oncopeptides won approval for Pepaxto, its drug to treat adults with relapsed or refractory multiple myeloma., "FDA has been giving a green light to Massachusetts biotechs," 31 Mar. 2021 He has also been profiled as a mostly hardline, conservative figure – even more refractory than his father – with especially tight ties to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Hollie Mckay, Fox News, "Is Iran's Supreme Leader preparing to designate his son as the next in line?," 8 Dec. 2020 One advancement has come in the ability to manufacture refractory metals, which are extraordinarily resistant to heating. Eric Berger, Ars Technica, "The US military is getting serious about nuclear thermal propulsion," 15 June 2020 Many less attractive traits are also recorded: Charles could be uncommunicative and dilatory, evasive and mendacious, refractory, vindictive, obstinate, even outright wicked, though self-delusive about the motives of others. R.j.w. Evans, The New York Review of Books, "The Dream of World Monarchy," 27 May 2020 These trials routinely focus on those cancers, such as multiple myeloma and refractory colon cancer, which have resisted standard therapies. Dallas News, "D-FW swimmers are making big waves in the fight against cancer," 4 Sep. 2018 Work is also progressing to explore bone marrow transplants as a novel pathway to treating debilitating conditions like refractory inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Scientific American, "An Unconventional Path To Improving Healthcare," 24 Mar. 2020 And since other medical treatments for refractory endometriosis carry other risks, that surgical diagnosis is important for confirming the cause of the pain before those other options are tried. Perri Klass, New York Times, "Helping Teenagers With Menstrual Pain," 3 Feb. 2020 These fractious workplace relationships aren’t so much the fault of refractory unions or exploitative bosses, as the inevitable outcome of poor geology. Washington Post, "South Africa’s Golden Age Is Dead. Good Riddance," 12 May 2019 Recent Examples on the Web: Noun Our systematic approach to research enabled the first-ever treatment (siltuximab) and discovery of a treatment for patients who are siltuximab-refractory, like me. K.n.c., The Economist, "How to fight rare diseases with radically open innovation," 27 Nov. 2019 Almost a third endure refractory epilepsy, meaning typical pharmaceutical drugs have little effect in reducing the instances or frequency of seizures. Robert Iddiols, CNN, "Kids with epilepsy are the victims of the UK's medical cannabis stalemate," 28 Sep. 2019

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


1606, in the meaning defined at sense 1


1627, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for refractory


alteration of refractary, from Latin refractarius, irregular from refragari to oppose, from re- + -fragari (as in suffragari to support with one's vote)

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The first known use of refractory was in 1606

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Last Updated

10 Apr 2021

Cite this Entry

“Refractory.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 9 May. 2021.

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More Definitions for refractory



English Language Learners Definition of refractory

medical : difficult to treat or cure
formal : difficult to control or deal with


re·​frac·​to·​ry | \ ri-ˈfrak-tə-rē How to pronounce refractory (audio) \

Kids Definition of refractory

1 : resisting control or authority : stubborn a refractory child
2 : capable of enduring very high temperatures refractory clays


re·​frac·​to·​ry | \ ri-ˈfrak-t(ə-)rē How to pronounce refractory (audio) \

Medical Definition of refractory

1 : resistant to treatment or cure a refractory fulminant lesion had disease that was extremely refractory to multiple intensive therapies— Michelle L. Bennett et al.
2 : unresponsive to stimulus the refractory period of a muscle fiber
3 : resistant or not responding to an infectious agent : immune refractory to reinfection

More from Merriam-Webster on refractory

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for refractory

Nglish: Translation of refractory for Spanish Speakers

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