ruf·​fi·​an | \ ˈrə-fē-ən How to pronounce ruffian (audio) \

Definition of ruffian

: a brutal person : bully

Keep scrolling for more

Other Words from ruffian

ruffian adjective
ruffianism \ ˈrə-​fē-​ə-​ˌni-​zəm How to pronounce ruffianism (audio) \ noun
ruffianly adjective

Examples of ruffian in a Sentence

a gang of ruffians preying upon people who ventured into that section of town
Recent Examples on the Web His train of thought reminds the reader that Cromwell is also his own author, having fashioned a high minister out of the unlikely material of a ruffian from the streets. Judith Shulevitz, The Atlantic, "Hilary Mantel Takes Thomas Cromwell Down," 5 Apr. 2020 In the chaos, the young ruffians pilfered freely and made away with a small fortune. Sylvia Poggioli, The New York Review of Books, "Pandemic Journal, March 23–29," 29 Mar. 2020 Policemen bash down doors and clip handcuffs on ruffians. The Economist, "What’s going wrong here? Britain’s 20,000 new cops won’t get the justice ministry celebrating," 18 Jan. 2020 Tensions between the natives and the conquerors were lessened when the Bear Flag ruffians were supplanted by regular U.S. troops. Gary Kamiya,, "War in the Bay Area: Why native Californians fought U.S. takeover from Mexico," 10 Jan. 2020 My dad and uncle were abalone divers ... considered ruffians by the locals. Los Angeles Times, "Newsletter: Proposed food stamp cuts could be intensely felt in the Central Valley," 1 Aug. 2019 Soon, their unsatisfying one night stand devolves into a silly crime saga when two cartoonish ruffians, Kipper (Celyn Jones) and Dec (Mark Bonnar), break into their hotel room and rob them at gunpoint., "Reviews: Jim Gaffigan doubles up in ‘Being Frank’; Jack Quaid is ‘Plus One’; and more," 13 June 2019 Mitchell’s newest collaborative of local ruffians (including Noah Nelson, Greg Baxter and others), has the honor of kicking off the Bike Kitchen’s slate of 2018 shows along with Slattern V and Manky. Aaron Davis, sacbee, "Rev up with Loose Engines, a blast from the Beatles’ past, throwback jazz | The Sacramento Bee," 13 Apr. 2018 When Lily welcomes a drug dealer, the ruffian savors every luxurious detail. Amy Nicholson, Town & Country, "What This Spring's Thriller Thoroughbreds Reveals About the Horrors of Being Rich," 26 Feb. 2018

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

circa 1525, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for ruffian

Middle French rufian

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about ruffian

Time Traveler for ruffian

Time Traveler

The first known use of ruffian was circa 1525

See more words from the same year

Statistics for ruffian

Cite this Entry

“Ruffian.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 21 Sep. 2020.

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for ruffian


How to pronounce ruffian (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of ruffian

old-fashioned : a strong and violent person (especially a man) who threatens and hurts other people


ruf·​fi·​an | \ ˈrə-fē-ən How to pronounce ruffian (audio) \

Kids Definition of ruffian

: a violent and cruel person

Keep scrolling for more

Comments on ruffian

What made you want to look up ruffian? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


Test Your Vocabulary

Homophone Quiz

  • three bears two of them look like theyre whispering to a third bear who looks chuffed to be the center of attention
  • In order to judge how people felt, the senator's office hired a firm to take a ______.
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?


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!