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

Example Sentences

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 Flashbacks evoke a sullen and cold feeling not terribly far from adult Ali’s color palette, emphasizing the past and present’s connective throughline. Courtney Howard, Variety, 6 Oct. 2022 His closest allies might have been in the Ashcan School, where the sullen realism of John Sloan and Robert Henri had proposed a different path for American Modernism. Globe Staff,, 23 Nov. 2022 On Evelyn’s too-real time line, her daughter, Joy, is rebellious, sullen, and—to the dismay of Evelyn’s father—gay. Stephanie Burt, The New Yorker, 31 Oct. 2022 Doctors deal each day with tales of the worried, sullen, skeptical, dissipated, desperate. Michael Stein,, 4 Nov. 2022 Boris, who’s about 10, is sullen and uncommunicative with his mother, making solo trips to the lake near their house to continue practicing the underwater swimming John had been teaching him. Sheri Linden, The Hollywood Reporter, 20 Oct. 2022 Instead, key Kremlin propagandists are sullen and belligerent, the elite is worried and polls show that the population is fearful, with support for continuing the war declining sharply after Putin announced the mobilization drive. Robyn Dixon, Washington Post, 3 Oct. 2022 Here, Curly, played as a blond and toothy golden boy by Sean Grandillo, is just as much of a threat as the sullen Jud Fry, a lonely man who feels more grunge Nirvana than brutish farmhand. Maureen Lee Lenker,, 16 Sep. 2022 Lucy’s sullen sister Vicky works at a nursing home, a difficult job made risky by the pandemic. Laura Miller, The New Yorker, 12 Sep. 2022 See More

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.

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 28 Jan. 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

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