ty·​rant | \ˈtī-rənt \

Definition of tyrant 

1a : an absolute ruler unrestrained by law or constitution

b : a usurper of sovereignty

2a : a ruler who exercises absolute power oppressively or brutally

b : one resembling an oppressive ruler in the harsh use of authority or power

Keep scrolling for more

What makes someone a tyrant?

A glance at the comments posted in response to our definition of tyrant illustrate two things: the word has a fairly wide spectrum of meaning, and many political rulers of late (regardless of party and action) are thought by some to merit this description. The word is often now found used as a generalized term of reproach ("he was a real tyrant in the kitchen"), and also with more specific denotation ("the tyrant suspended the country’s judicial code"). The definitions we give for words match, as best as possible, the manner in which these words are used. We cannot offer judgment on whether or not any specific individual is or is not a tyrant.

Examples of tyrant in a Sentence

Our boss is a real tyrant. the people universally feared the tyrant, who was notorious for his frequent use of torture

Recent Examples on the Web

Sometimes being a tyrant can feel quite oppressive. Charlie Theel, Ars Technica, "Root is a terrific—and fully asymmetric—woodland wargame," 29 Sep. 2018 The two skeletons that would eventually reveal the tyrant's full glory were excavated by famed fossil hunter Barnum Brown in 1900 and 1902, respectively, and later described by paleontologist Henry Fairfield Osborn in 1905. Brian Switek, Smithsonian, "How We Elected T. rex to be Our Tyrant Lizard King," 21 June 2018 Montesquieu characterized Islamic states as dominated by tyrants and religiously servile. Jacob Soll, The New Republic, "How Islam Shaped the Enlightenment," 12 Apr. 2018 By practicing exhaustive personal diplomacy, Bush organized a financial and military coalition that forced Iraqi tyrant Saddam Hussein’s withdrawal from Kuwait. Elise Jordan, Time, "I'm a Republican. What on Earth Is Wrong With My Party?," 15 Jan. 2018 To see slaves, women, and Jewish people exact revenge on their tyrants? Meagan Fredette, refinery29.com, "Quentin Tarantino Cast Every White Person He Could Find In His New Movie," 23 June 2018 There is a princess (Daisy, played by Samantha Mathis), who’s held prisoner by a villainous tyrant (King Koopa, played by Dennis Hopper) in a world unlike Mario’s own. David Sims, The Atlantic, "The Dazzling Failures of Super Mario Bros.," 31 May 2018 Some thought him more or less a tyrant, and questioned whether El Sistema had done any good, since weak players did not advance and Venezuela was falling even faster to pieces. The Economist, "José Abreu died on March 24th," 28 Mar. 2018 In short, crisply readable chapters, Greenblatt limns a bagful of Shakespeare’s tyrants. Alex Beam, BostonGlobe.com, "Stephen Greenblatt’s ‘Tyrant’ joins this year’s crop of hate reads," 2 May 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'tyrant.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

See More

First Known Use of tyrant

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

History and Etymology for tyrant

Middle English tyraunt, from Anglo-French tyran, tyrant, from Latin tyrannus, from Greek tyrannos

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about tyrant

Statistics for tyrant

Last Updated

18 Nov 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for tyrant

The first known use of tyrant was in the 14th century

See more words from the same century

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for tyrant



English Language Learners Definition of tyrant

: a ruler who has complete power over a country and who is cruel and unfair

: someone who uses power in a cruel and unfair way


ty·​rant | \ˈtī-rənt \

Kids Definition of tyrant

1 : a ruler who has no legal limits on his or her power

2 : a ruler who exercises total power harshly and cruelly

3 : a person who uses authority or power harshly My boss is a real tyrant.

Keep scrolling for more

More from Merriam-Webster on tyrant

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with tyrant

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for tyrant

Spanish Central: Translation of tyrant

Nglish: Translation of tyrant for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of tyrant for Arabic Speakers

Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about tyrant

Comments on tyrant

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


living or existing for a long time

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Late Autumn 2018 Words of the Day Quiz

  • frosted-autumn-leaves
  • Which is a synonym of yahoo?
How Strong Is Your Vocabulary?

Test your vocabulary with our 10-question quiz!


Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.


Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!