sul·​ly | \ ˈsə-lē How to pronounce sully (audio) \
sullied; sullying

Definition of sully

 (Entry 1 of 4)

transitive verb

: to make soiled or tarnished : defile


plural sullies

Definition of sully (Entry 2 of 4)

: soil, stain


biographical name (1)
Sul·​ly | \ ˈsə-lē How to pronounce Sully (audio) , (ˌ)sə-ˈlē, sᵫ-ˈlē \

Definition of Sully (Entry 3 of 4)

Duc de 1560–1641 Maximilien de Béthune Baron de Rosny \ də-​rō-​ˈnē How to pronounce Sully (audio) \ French statesman


biographical name (2)
Sul·​ly | \ ˈsə-lē How to pronounce Sully (audio) \

Definition of Sully (Entry 4 of 4)

Thomas 1783–1872 American (English-born) painter

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Synonyms & Antonyms for sully

Synonyms: Verb

Antonyms: Verb

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The spelling of sully has shifted several times since it was sylian in Old-English, but its meaning has remained essentially the same: "to soil." If you're looking for other words that mean "to soil," you can try out befoul, besmirch, blacken, foul, grime, stain, or simply dirty. You might wonder if the English word sullen (meaning "gloomy or morose") is a relative of sully, and the answer is no. Sullen traces back by way of Anglo- and Old French to Latin solus, meaning "alone."

Examples of sully in a Sentence

Verb people that sully our state parks with their trash a once-gleaming marble interior sullied by decades of exposure to cigarette smoke
Recent Examples on the Web: Verb On March 16th, Josh Vlasto, a longtime adviser to Cuomo, wrote in a group text that Cohen had approached him about the effort to sully Kim. Ronan Farrow, The New Yorker, 10 Aug. 2021 Unplanned bathroom breaks can sully a pleasant hike. Siena Giljum, Los Angeles Times, 12 July 2021 Plus, if Susie allows even a speck of her outrage to sully her son’s relationship with his dad, then her offense would be worse than your hitting on Debbie. Washington Post, 29 June 2020 Sleights of hand sullied the reputations of Teddy Roosevelt, Wilson, FDR, Kennedy, Johnson and Reagan, giving Trump’s mistruths a long history. Washington Post, 28 May 2020 The high death toll in nursing homes also sullies Sweden’s record. Peter Coy,, 16 May 2020 The company suffered further embarrassment from internal messages, which sullied Boeing’s reputation for safety and engineering prowess. Julie Johnsson, Fortune, 29 Jan. 2020 And there certainly wasn’t a sense of impending forgiveness, which our society seems willing to bestow on so many sullied public figures, be they Hugh Grant or Alex Rodriguez, Sean Spicer or Tiger Woods. Gabe Lacques, USA TODAY, 15 Jan. 2020 The Law and Justice party uses public television station TVP to praise the government’s achievements and to sully the standing of political opponents. Time, 7 Mar. 2020

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


15th century, in the meaning defined above


1601, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for sully


Middle English *sullien, probably alteration (influenced by Anglo-French suillier, soiller to soil) of sulen to soil, from Old English sylian

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Time Traveler for sully

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The first known use of sully was in the 15th century

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Last Updated

19 Aug 2021

Cite this Entry

“Sully.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 18 Oct. 2021.

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More Definitions for sully



English Language Learners Definition of sully

: to damage or ruin the good quality of (something)

More from Merriam-Webster on sully

Nglish: Translation of sully for Spanish Speakers


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