sul·​len ˈsə-lən How to pronounce sullen (audio)
: gloomily or resentfully silent or repressed
a sullen crowd
: suggesting a sullen state : lowering
a sullen countenance
: dull or somber in sound or color
: dismal, gloomy
a sullen morning
: moving sluggishly
a sullen river
sullenly adverb
sullenness noun
Choose the Right Synonym for sullen

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 sullen in a Sentence

Economy got you down? Provocateur Ehrenreich … says: Don't try cheering yourself up.  … Her sharp, funny critique finds that sunny types don't necessarily live longer or better than grumps. Besides, can you really get rid of all negativity in your life? "It is not so easy," she notes, "to abandon the whiny toddler or the sullen teenager." Richard Eisenberg, People, 26 Oct. 2009
The skies grew sullen and the air chillier, but it wasn't until the third day that the snow came. Bill Bryson, A Walk In The Woods, 1999
Despite angry alumni calls and sullen students protests—including the cancellation of all fraternity parties at the school's annual Winter Carnival—the faculty unanimously voted in favor of the college's goal to make fraternities and sororities substantially coed, along with developing new social alternatives for its 4,300 undergraduates. Anita Hamilton, Time, 1 Mar. 1999
sullen skies that matched our mood on the day of the funeral sullen and bored at his in-laws' house, he couldn't wait for the holidays to end
Recent Examples on the Web When Russo took a turn, Votto managed just a few sullen syllables in response. Zach Buchanan, New York Times, 11 Sep. 2023 Carter’s debut included a lot of firsts, but ended up as just another sullen night in what is becoming the Great Collapse of 2023, marked by an inefficient offense, a starter who failed to go deep and — all together now — a bullpen incapable of holding the line in a 6-3 loss to Oakland. Evan Grant, Dallas News, 9 Sep. 2023 Even so, the film’s single funniest scene involves Stanfield (as the film’s sullen straight man) and DeVito (who took a shining to horror in the early 2010s, tapping into that dark streak here) describing said apparation to a police sketch artist. Peter Debruge, Variety, 25 July 2023 Barbie opens with a riff on 2001: A Space Odyssey where sullen little girls smash old-fashioned baby dolls (i.e., the idea of motherhood). Armond White, National Review, 19 July 2023 Fifteen sullen audio engineers and producers file into the brick-walled room where her team used to pour shots for visiting bands. Annalee Newitz, Rolling Stone, 28 June 2023 To the defeated goes an unusually early and sullen vacation. Sopan Deb, New York Times, 13 May 2023 Confronting Lorenzo, her verbal drubbing is met by his sullen hostility. Pablo Sandoval, Variety, 3 Apr. 2023 Roman, who’s always most empathetic toward their father despite having abundant reasons not to be, is sullen. Alan Sepinwall, Rolling Stone, 3 Apr. 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'sullen.' 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 solein solitary, from Anglo-French sulein, solain, perhaps from sol, soul single, sole + -ain after Old French soltain solitary, private, from Late Latin solitaneus, ultimately from Latin solus alone

First Known Use

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

Time Traveler
The first known use of sullen was in the 14th century

Dictionary Entries Near sullen

Cite this Entry

“Sullen.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 25 Sep. 2023.

Kids Definition


sul·​len ˈsəl-ən How to pronounce sullen (audio)
: gloomily or resentfully silent : not sociable
: suggesting a sullen state
sullen refusal
: dull in sound or color
: dismal sense 1, gloomy
a sullen sky
sullenly adverb
sullenness noun

More from Merriam-Webster on sullen

Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!