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

transitive verb

: to make soiled or tarnished : defile


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plural sullies
: soil, stain

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
Spain’s government has since warned that the bid to host one of the world’s biggest sporting events is at risk of being sullied. Joseph Wilson, Anchorage Daily News, 10 Sep. 2023 The Springfield Police Department has a troubled history and a reputation sullied by a litany of excessive force, domestic abuse, and child rape cases throughout the last decade. Hanna Krueger,, 6 Sep. 2023 The furor has further sullied the Southeast Asian nation’s leadership transition following May’s election—polls that Srettha’s Pheu Thai party pointedly did not win. TIME, 11 Oct. 2023 Such disasters have inspired backlash against biocontrol, sullying its public image and spooking policymakers. Nala Rogers, Popular Mechanics, 9 Aug. 2023 Roc Nation officials planned for the exhibit to surprise Jay-Z, but speculative reports throughout the week may have sullied their secrecy. Andre Gee, Rolling Stone, 14 July 2023 Five years after the groundbreaking on Mulholland Highway, the deadly collapse of the St. Francis Dam, which claimed more than 400 lives, forever-after sullied the reputation of the renowned civic engineer William Mulholland. Patt Morrisoncolumnist, Los Angeles Times, 16 Feb. 2023 The pact covers all present and future claims that PFAS sullied drinking water supplies at any level, according to the company. Ryan Beene,, 22 June 2023 Critics say that Sharp sullied the reputation of the BBC, one of the world’s premier news organizations, and that his introduction of a potential benefactor for Johnson, before his appointment as chair of the BBC, was a conflict of interest. William Booth, Washington Post, 28 Apr. 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'sully.' 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 *sullien, probably alteration (influenced by Anglo-French suillier, soiller to soil) of sulen to soil, from Old English sylian

First Known Use


15th century, in the meaning defined above


1601, in the meaning defined above

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


Dictionary Entries Near sully

Cite this Entry

“Sully.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 4 Dec. 2023.

Kids Definition


sullied; sullying
: to make soiled or tarnished

Biographical Definition

Sully 1 of 2

biographical name (1)

Sul·​ly ˈsə-lē How to pronounce Sully (audio)
Duc de 1560–1641 Maximilien de Béthune Baron de Rosny də-rō-ˈnē How to pronounce Sully (audio) French statesman


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biographical name (2)

Sul·​ly ˈsə-lē How to pronounce Sully (audio)
Thomas 1783–1872 American (English-born) painter

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