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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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

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 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, "Carolyn Hax: His soon-to-be-ex objects to him hitting on her new friend," 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, "Searching presidential history for clues to Trump’s rise," 28 May 2020 The high death toll in nursing homes also sullies Sweden’s record. Peter Coy,, "The Swedish Model Trades More Disease for Less Economic Damage," 16 May 2020 The company suffered further embarrassment from internal messages, which sullied Boeing’s reputation for safety and engineering prowess. Julie Johnsson, Fortune, "Boeing reports historic earnings loss as 737 MAX costs surpass $18 billion," 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, "Injured parties, defiant execs and a tainted title: Houston Astros' sign-stealing scandal checks all the boxes," 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, "Poland's President Signs Bill Funding Public Media Amid Reelection Campaign," 7 Mar. 2020 But in the case of analyzing extraterrestrial rocks, such transgressions could easily sully the samples, potentially leading to a false discovery of Martian life. Robin George Andrews, Scientific American, "Rocks, Rockets and Robots: The Plan to Bring Mars Down to Earth," 6 Feb. 2020 His career is back on track, for sure, but his reputation might be sullied for other reasons. Washington Post, "‘Simplicity is genius’: Joshua boxes smart to reclaim titles," 8 Dec. 2019

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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Cite this Entry

“Sully.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 8 May. 2021.

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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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