sul·​len | \ ˈsə-lən How to pronounce sullen (audio) \

Definition of sullen

1a : gloomily or resentfully silent or repressed a sullen crowd
b : suggesting a sullen state : lowering a sullen countenance
2 : dull or somber in sound or color
3 : dismal, gloomy a sullen morning
4 : moving sluggishly a sullen river

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Other Words from sullen

sullenly adverb
sullenness \ ˈsə-​lə(n)-​nəs How to pronounce sullen (audio) \ 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
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Recent Examples on the Web The method suited artists like the energetic veteran Kirby, known for his dynamic action and far-out costumes, and the moody Steve Ditko, who cooked up sullen characters and mysterious semi-Expressionist backgrounds. Stephanie Burt, The New Yorker, "Who Really Created the Marvel Universe?," 8 Feb. 2021 At midnight colors lose their distinctiveness and become a sullen shade of grey. Kathryn Jean Lopez, National Review, "The Church Must Be the Conscience of the State," 25 Jan. 2021 Tombstone does better in that department, doubling the amount of meat with 18 pieces of smoky pepperoni, but the sullen sauce and nondescript crust do nothing to distinguish this pizza from its brethren. Los Angeles Times, "The official frozen pizza power rankings," 27 Jan. 2021 Florida in the late ’90s produced ghastly rock acts like Marilyn Manson and Jack Off Jill—and, eventually, sullen teenagers like me. Suzy Exposito, Vogue, "American Gothic: Scenes from the Dark Side of Miami," 21 Jan. 2021 The following season, as speculation began to rat-a-tat-tat about his future, Durant became sullen around teammates. Connor Letourneau,, "Kevin Durant to face his old Warriors teammates and the complicated legacy he left behind," 21 Dec. 2020 Getting knocked up by a stranger on Christmas morning, Dawn eventually becomes a neglectful mom to sullen daughter Taffy (Mink Stole) and embarks on a life of crime that sends her to a truly gruesome end. NBC News, "12 merry and gay movies to spice up your holiday," 30 Nov. 2020 There was even a teen room, where a handful of children sat on folding chairs and regarded a Wurlitzer in sullen ennui. Joan Didion, Harper's Magazine, "Fathers, Sons, Screaming Eagles," 24 Nov. 2020 Whenever Olivia or Benjamin praised Meredith or contradicted him, Scott grew sullen and threatened to hang up. Barbara Bradley Hagerty, The Atlantic, "Can Children Be Persuaded to Love a Parent They Hate?," 24 Nov. 2020

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

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

History and Etymology for sullen

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

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Time Traveler for sullen

Time Traveler

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

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Statistics for sullen

Last Updated

19 Feb 2021

Cite this Entry

“Sullen.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 25 Feb. 2021.

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More Definitions for sullen



English Language Learners Definition of sullen

used to describe an angry or unhappy person who does not want to talk, smile, etc.
literary : gray and dark


sul·​len | \ ˈsə-lən How to pronounce sullen (audio) \

Kids Definition of sullen

1 : not sociable : sulky Laura tried to cheer him up … but he only grew more sullen.— Laura Ingalls Wilder, Little House on the Prairie
2 : gloomy sense 1, dreary a sullen sky

Other Words from sullen

sullenly adverb

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