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 The actor and musician went viral during the Super Bowl for his reaction to being put on the jumbotron by waving and dancing, with some comparing his response to the more sullen reaction of Leonardo DiCaprio. Taijuan Moorman, USA TODAY, 22 Feb. 2024 Embedded with layers of forlorn melodies and sullen acoustic guitar, the track is a masterpiece of melancholy. Peter A. Berry, Variety, 15 Mar. 2024 Over in Dragonstone, a sullen man named Stannis stews. Darren Franich,, 29 Feb. 2024 Think Margot Robbie's endless arsenal of Barbie-centric outfits, or Jenna Ortega's sullen Wednesday wardrobe. Hannah Jackson, Vogue, 21 Feb. 2024 Their sullen daughter, Daisy (Tiana Gowen), spends her time obsessing over a flight that disappeared off the coast of Australia, while their son Philip (Bodhi del Rosario) draws pictures of Gus holding hands with Jesus, much to Margaret’s dismay. Kristen Baldwin,, 23 Jan. 2024 Their sullen 15-year-old daughter Nina (Freya Hannan-Mills) is equally detached from both her parents. Guy Lodge, Variety, 3 Feb. 2024 In the wake of Nirvana’s success, rock and roll was growing more sullen and more introverted, embracing dark colors and minor keys. Kelefa Sanneh, The New Yorker, 17 Jan. 2024 That’s the exact word thrown at Dan by his wife Jessica (Michelle Monaghan), and their two sullen teenagers Nina (Zoe Colletti) and Kyle (Van Crosby), all of whom regard his dull job, cornball personality and comfy homebody routine with some degree of affectionate contempt. Guy Lodge, Variety, 15 Dec. 2023

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 22 May. 2024.

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

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