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)



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 Michigan’s defense, of course, did its part to sully Book’s stat line by consistently invading his pocket and pushing him off his mark. Rainer Sabin, Detroit Free Press, "Michigan football obliterates Notre Dame with a five-man sledgehammer," 27 Oct. 2019 President Trump’s atrocious behavior in office has begun to sully the public image of many of his major donors, with billionaires like Equinox-owner Stephen Ross suffering boycotts waged by his high-income, left-leaning customers. Josephine Livingstone, The New Republic, "The Family’s Big Secret Is Hiding in Plain Sight," 14 Aug. 2019 Nebraska may want a measure of revenge for the Buffs sullying Frost’s debut last September… or for a fourth-quarter hit knocking then-freshman Martinez out of the game. Skip Snow, USA TODAY Sportsbook Wire, "Nebraska Cornhuskers at Colorado Buffaloes odds, picks and best bets," 6 Sep. 2019 And to add insult to injury, a plague of summertime flight cancellations has angered passengers and sullied American’s brand. Mary Schlangensteinbloomberg, Los Angeles Times, "American Airlines keeps canceling flights and its CEO is taking the heat," 4 Sep. 2019 But documents Litwin had to include in his application are sullied by his past. Los Angeles Times,, "He went to jail for impersonating a doctor; then, he went to medical school," 24 Aug. 2019 There’s always another step to take, and always the chance of another fatal crash that would scare riders and again sully Metro’s reputation. Washington Post, "Metro Red Line crash was pivotal event for agency and other U.S. subway systems," 29 June 2019 Unfortunately, this is one of those sequels that is best forgotten so as not to sully the original film. Allen Kim, CNN, "After nearly 17 years, 'Bad Boys II' is getting a sequel. That wait is nothing compared to these movie sequels," 7 Sep. 2019 So Trump’s disdain for checks and balances and traditional democratic norms has sullied America’s global reputation and the respect that adversaries pay. Trudy Rubin, The Mercury News, "Rubin: Joe Biden has advanced the key foreign-policy issue of 2020," 16 July 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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Statistics for sully

Last Updated

11 Nov 2019

Time Traveler for sully

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

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More Definitions for sully


How to pronounce Sully (audio)

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

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for sully

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with sully

Spanish Central: Translation of sully

Nglish: Translation of sully for Spanish Speakers

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