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 də-rō-ˈnē (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

befoul, begrime, bemire, besmirch, blacken, daub, dirty, distain [archaic], foul, gaum [dialect], grime, mire, muck, muddy, smirch, smudge, soil, stain

Antonyms: Verb

clean, cleanse

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Did You Know?


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


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

Her reputation was sullied by scandals, including a 1991 conviction for kidnapping and assault. Washington Post, "South Africa declares mourning period for Madikizela-Mandela," 3 Apr. 2018 Washington regulators have repeatedly denied permits for a coal export terminal, citing concerns that coal exports will sully the state's water quality, and trains transporting the coal into Washington will damage air quality. Megan Geuss, Ars Technica, "King Coal isn’t dead—he’s just been exiled from the US," 20 Dec. 2018 Your reputation has been sullied, to put it mildly. Fox News, "Ann Coulter on left's meltdown over Kavanaugh allegation; will Carter Page finally learn why the FBI spied on him?," 19 Sep. 2018 Porter said his group, the Mount Everest Biogas Project, has already gotten approval to build the digester from the Nepalese government and the blessing of dozens of climbers who sought to conquer Everest, not sully it. Cleve R. Wootson Jr., The Seattle Times, "Mount Everest is a ‘fecal time bomb.’ Here’s one man’s idea for handling 14 tons of human waste.," 7 Aug. 2018 Thinking about how Toad is just the purest, cutest videogame character and how nothing could sully his image. Karen Han, Vox, "Why Nintendo’s Toad is in the news, and why he doesn’t deserve this," 18 Sep. 2018 Some of Rosenstein’s own allies turned on him, accusing him of sullying his reputation by allowing himself to be used by the president., "‘Shaken’ Rosenstein felt used by White House in Comey firing," 30 June 2018 The Hollywood giant has been trying to buy 21st Century Fox for some time, but Comcast is reportedly in the mix to sully the deal. John Patrick Pullen, Fortune, "Netflix's Stock Surge Made It More Valuable Than Disney—For a Few Hours at Least," 24 May 2018 Is the word now — and words matter — is the word now sullied in that way, because that’s how people think of it? Eric Johnson, Recode, "We have to rewrite antitrust law to deal with tech monopolies, says ‘Positive Populism’ author Steve Hilton," 24 Oct. 2018

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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Dictionary Entries near sully






Sully Prudhomme


Statistics for sully

Last Updated

15 Apr 2019

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Time Traveler for sully

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

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More Definitions for sully



English Language Learners Definition of sully

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

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More from Merriam-Webster on sully

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with sully

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for sully

Spanish Central: Translation of sully

Nglish: Translation of sully for Spanish Speakers

Comments on sully

What made you want to look up sully? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


one that collects or salvages junk

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