adjective sul·len \ ˈsə-lən \
|Updated on: 21 Jul 2018

Definition of sullen

1 a : 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




play \ˈsə-lə(n)-nəs\ noun

Examples of sullen in a Sentence

  1. 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 EisenbergPeople26 Oct. 2009
  2. The skies grew sullen and the air chillier, but it wasn't until the third day that the snow came. —Bill BrysonA Walk In The Woods1999
  3. 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 HamiltonTime1 Mar. 1999
  4. sullen skies that matched our mood on the day of the funeral

  5. sullen and bored at his in-laws' house, he couldn't wait for the holidays to end

Recent Examples of sullen from the Web

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.

Origin and Etymology of 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

Synonym Discussion of 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

SULLEN Defined for English Language Learners


Definition of sullen for English Language Learners

  • —used to describe an angry or unhappy person who does not want to talk, smile, etc.

  • : gray and dark

SULLEN Defined for Kids


adjective sul·len \ ˈsə-lən \

Definition of sullen for Students

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 1, dreary
  • a sullen sky



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very hard to disturb or upset

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