sub·​hu·​man | \ˌsəb-ˈhyü-mən, -ˈyü-\

Definition of subhuman 

(Entry 1 of 2)

: less than human: such as

a : failing to attain the level (as of morality or intelligence) associated with normal human beings

b : unsuitable to or unfit for human beings subhuman living conditions

c : of or relating to a taxonomic group lower than that of humans the subhuman primates



Definition of subhuman (Entry 2 of 2)

: a subhuman being

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Synonyms for subhuman

Synonyms: Adjective

animalistic, beastly, bestial, brutal, brute, brutish, feral, ferine, swinish

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Examples of subhuman in a Sentence


The prisoners suffered subhuman treatment. years of grinding poverty that had reduced them to a subhuman existence

Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective

The widespread belief that Africans were not fully human, but rather subhuman, propped up the Confederacy’s defense of itself. Sarah Jones, The New Republic, "Why Tyrants Dehumanize the Powerless," 20 June 2018 Germans used the word Untermenschen, which literally means subhuman, to describe Jews while making plans to exterminate them. Katy Steinmetz, Time, "Why Calling Donald Trump an 'Animal' Doesn't Fix Anything," 18 May 2018 Modern history is full of examples of political regimes that has described certain populations as subhuman—often to justify treating them as such. Sarah Jones, The New Republic, "Why Tyrants Dehumanize the Powerless," 20 June 2018 The remarks quickly drew criticism — widely interpreted as Trump once again characterizing Latinx immigrants as subhuman rapists and criminals. German Lopez, Vox, "Trump’s dangerous “animals” rhetoric is also bad crime-fighting policy," 18 May 2018 Here’s just one component — research shows that the perception of black people as subhuman and ape-like directly informs the public’s view of whether police brutality against a black suspect is deserved. Ellen Mcgirt, Fortune, "raceAhead: Can Starbucks Change America?," 31 May 2018 Americans are also prone, surveys suggest, to find their subhuman opponents extremely disagreeable. The Economist, "The primeval tribalism of American politics," 24 May 2018 More specifically, as criminologist John Pfaff pointed out, a willingness to accept criminals as subhuman encourages law enforcement officers to treat them accordingly, with often horrific results. Dara Lind, Vox, "Trump’s “animals” remark and the ensuing controversy, explained," 21 May 2018 Pronouncing whole categories of people as subhuman numbs a nation’s moral sense and, in extreme but, unfortunately, too many cases, becomes a rationale for collective cruelty. Eugene Scott, Washington Post, "White House feeds Trump base with news release doubling down on MS-13 ‘animals’," 21 May 2018

Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

These groups appear as subhumans to those taking the survey. Brian Resnick, Vox, "Donald Trump and the disturbing power of dehumanizing language," 14 Aug. 2018 These families are vulnerable, seeking safety and asylum, but they’re being treated like subhumans. Patrick Marley, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Scott Walker touts protecting border in ads, but mum on Trump's immigration stances," 25 June 2018 These groups appear as subhumans to those taking the survey. Brian Resnick, Vox, "Donald Trump and the disturbing power of dehumanizing language," 17 May 2018 In the popular press, the Irish were depicted as subhuman. Michael Harriot, The Root, "When the Irish Weren’t White," 17 Mar. 2018 Thanks to all who have been supportive and informative! #KeepStandingUp and #youtoo to all the subhumans who have hurt people. Madeleine Marr, miamiherald, "Orlando woman tells of a harrowing encounter with Jeremy Piven back in 1995," 13 Dec. 2017 But Myanmar’s Buddhist majority drove them out in the first place, creating a climate of hate that vilified the Rohingya as subhuman. Jeffrey Gettleman, New York Times, "Fate of Stateless Rohingya Muslims Is in Antagonistic Hands," 3 Nov. 2017 The South fired the first shots of the Civil War out of greed, hatred, and a mass delusion that blacks were subhumans who were destined to serve whites. Solomon Jones,, "John Kelly's warped sense of American history | Solomon Jones," 31 Oct. 2017 For 50 years, Bartholomew fought for Taino people’s rights during an era when they were seen as subhuman—a lighter, more feeble alternative to a proper Negro slave. Ian Graber-stiehl, The Root, "Columbus’ Ain’t the Only Legacy Stained by Slavery—So Is That of the Hero Many People Want to Replace Him With," 1 Sep. 2017

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


1790, in the meaning defined above


circa 1812, in the meaning defined above

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The first known use of subhuman was in 1790

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English Language Learners Definition of subhuman

: not having or showing the level of kindness, intelligence, etc., that is expected of normal human beings

: not suitable for human beings


sub·​hu·​man | \ˌsəb-ˈhyü-mən, ˈsəb-, -ˈyü- \

Medical Definition of subhuman 

: of or relating to a taxonomic group lower than that of humans the subhuman primates

Other Words from subhuman

subhuman noun

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More from Merriam-Webster on subhuman

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with subhuman

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for subhuman

Spanish Central: Translation of subhuman

Comments on subhuman

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having a pattern of small flowers

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