sat·​ur·​nine ˈsa-tər-ˌnīn How to pronounce saturnine (audio)
: born under or influenced astrologically by the planet Saturn
: cold and steady in mood : slow to act or change
: of a gloomy or surly disposition
: having a sardonic aspect
a saturnine smile

Did you know?

Saturnine is far—even astronomically far—from the cheeriest of words. It has a long history of describing the glum and grouchy among us, and comes ultimately from Sāturnus, name of the Roman god of agriculture, who was often depicted as a bent old man with a stern, sluggish, and sullen nature. Saturn, the ringed gas giant that is one of five planets visible to the naked eye, is of course the namesake of Sāturnus, and Saturn does indeed seem to dawdle; it requires over 29 of our Earth years to orbit the sun. The ancient Romans (like some astrologists today) believed those who are born when Saturn is rising in the sky may tend toward being a Gloomy Gus or Debbie Downer. We don’t know A. A. Milne’s take on the influence of Saturn, but his gloomy, cynical gray donkey Eeyore is famously saturnine, a fact Eeyore himself would surely stoically accept as true if it were pointed out to him.

Choose the Right Synonym for saturnine

sullen, glum, morose, surly, sulky, crabbed, saturnine, gloomy mean showing a forbidding or disagreeable mood.

sullen implies a silent ill humor and a refusal to be sociable.

remained sullen amid the festivities

glum suggests a silent dispiritedness.

a glum candidate left to ponder a stunning defeat

morose adds to glum an element of bitterness or misanthropy.

morose job seekers who are inured to rejection

surly implies gruffness and sullenness of speech or manner.

a typical surly teenager

sulky suggests childish resentment expressed in peevish sullenness.

grew sulky after every spat

crabbed applies to a forbidding morose harshness of manner.

the school's notoriously crabbed headmaster

saturnine describes a heavy forbidding aspect or suggests a bitter disposition.

a saturnine cynic always finding fault

gloomy implies a depression in mood making for seeming sullenness or glumness.

a gloomy mood ushered in by bad news

Examples of saturnine in a Sentence

He is saturnine in temperament. the men awaiting interrogation by the police shared a saturnine silence
Recent Examples on the Web The mood is too saturnine, the occasional nods to social criticism too stilted. Sophie Gilbert, The Atlantic, 27 Jan. 2022

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

Word History


Middle English, borrowed from Medieval Latin sāturnīnus (Latin Sāturnīnus, a Roman cognomen), from Latin Sāturnus saturn + -īnus -ine entry 1

First Known Use

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 2b

Time Traveler
The first known use of saturnine was in the 15th century


Dictionary Entries Near saturnine

Cite this Entry

“Saturnine.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 22 Jun. 2024.

Kids Definition


sat·​ur·​nine ˈsat-ər-ˌnīn How to pronounce saturnine (audio)

Medical Definition


sat·​ur·​nine ˈsat-ər-ˌnīn How to pronounce saturnine (audio)
: of or relating to lead
: of, relating to, or produced by the absorption of lead into the system
saturnine poisoning
saturnine gout
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