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 refractorily (audio) ; ˌrē-​ˌfrak-​ˈtȯr-​ə-​lē , ri-​ \ adverb
refractoriness \ ri-​ˈfrak-​t(ə-​)rē-​nəs How to pronounce refractoriness (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 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 Another way to reduce what reaches the ground is to substitute refractory materials such as titanium and steel, used to make things like fuel tanks and fly wheels, with substances such as aluminium and graphite epoxy that vaporise more easily. The Economist, "No one has yet been killed by re-entering space junk," 10 Aug. 2019 For instance, determining whether a heart attack needs to be urgently catheterized depends in part on if a patient’s chest pain is refractory to medical treatment. Abraar Karan,, "The clinical value in listening," 9 Aug. 2019 But 5% of heart failure remains refractory to medical treatment, and in these patients palliative care has been shown to improve patient satisfaction and decrease costs. Marc Siegel, WSJ, "Barbara Bush Faces Death With Courage," 16 Apr. 2018 It’s being used in patients with relapsed and refractory multiple myeloma, a cancer of the bone marrow. Bradley J. Fikes,, "Poseida raises $30.5 million for cancer cell therapy," 4 Apr. 2018 Mugnaini imports the core elements — the Italian firebrick floor and the refractory-clay crown — and workers assemble the modular ovens in her 14,000-square-foot Healdsburg facility. Janet Fletcher, San Francisco Chronicle, "Why not wood-fire all your meals?," 17 Jan. 2018 Made with refractory material like that found in faux fireplace logs, the spooky stoneware skulls are fireproof and lightweight. Taysha Murtaugh, Country Living, "These $30 Skull Logs Will Make Your Fireplace Extra Eerie for Halloween," 10 Oct. 2018 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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Time Traveler for refractory

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The first known use of refractory was in 1606

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Last Updated

22 Mar 2020

Cite this Entry

“Refractory.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 29 Mar. 2020.

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More Definitions for refractory


How to pronounce refractory (audio)

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

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More from Merriam-Webster on refractory

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for refractory

Spanish Central: Translation of refractory

Nglish: Translation of refractory for Spanish Speakers

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