sul·ly | \ˈsə-lē \
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, (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 \ French statesman


biographical name (2)
Sul·ly | \ˈsə-lē \

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, foul, 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

Along the way there have been numerous death threats, harassment and attempts to sully her character. Sonia Perez D., Fox News, "Guatemala's crusading prosecutor exits amid praise, threats," 8 May 2018 Along the way there have been numerous death threats, harassment and attempts to sully her character. Washington Post, "Guatemala’s crusading prosecutor exits amid praise, threats," 8 May 2018 The dossier describes prostitutes' performing a highly unusual act involving urination with Trump present as a way to sully the bed, which had previously been used by President Barack Obama. NBC News, "Comey, in new book, paints Trump as a liar divorced from reality," 13 Apr. 2018 Qantas, NRMA Insurance, Magellan step in after controversies Sponsor intrusion shows social media’s ability to sully brand Australians are used to indiscretions by their sporting heroes., "Sponsors Are Sick of Australian Sports Stars Behaving Badly," 12 Apr. 2018 Paterson’s reputation has long been sullied by headlines about corrupt politicians and gang violence. New York Times, "A City Founded by Alexander Hamilton Sets the Stage for Its Next Act," 5 July 2018 Keuchel's first innings can sometimes sully otherwise suitable showings. Chandler Rome, Houston Chronicle, "Astros hang on to beat Rangers in series opener," 3 July 2018 In that instant, a marvelous series for Padres pitchers was sullied, at least statistically. Kevin Acee,, "Padres drop finale in Houston, head to Denver hopeful," 9 Apr. 2018 But his reputation has been sullied by a raft of corruption allegations. Marina Lopes, Washington Post, "Brazil’s Lula defies prison order as crowds rally for and against him," 6 Apr. 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

14 Oct 2018

Look-up Popularity

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

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

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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).


a state of commotion or excitement

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