vi·​cious ˈvi-shəs How to pronounce vicious (audio)
: dangerously aggressive : savage
a vicious dog
: marked by violence or ferocity : fierce
a vicious fight
: malicious, spiteful
vicious gossip
: worsened by internal causes that reciprocally augment each other
a vicious wage-price spiral
: having the nature or quality of vice or immorality : depraved
viciously adverb
viciousness noun
Choose the Right Synonym for vicious

vicious, villainous, iniquitous, nefarious, corrupt, degenerate mean highly reprehensible or offensive in character, nature, or conduct.

vicious may directly oppose virtuous in implying moral depravity, or may connote malignancy, cruelty, or destructive violence.

a vicious gangster

villainous applies to any evil, depraved, or vile conduct or characteristic.

a villainous assault

iniquitous implies absence of all signs of justice or fairness.

an iniquitous system of taxation

nefarious suggests flagrant breaching of time-honored laws and traditions of conduct.

the nefarious rackets of organized crime

corrupt stresses a loss of moral integrity or probity causing betrayal of principle or sworn obligations.

city hall was rife with corrupt politicians

degenerate suggests having sunk to an especially vicious or enervated condition.

a degenerate regime propped up by foreign powers

Examples of vicious in a Sentence

Challenging areas of social consensus, however dumb or even vicious the consensus, is largely off limits for the media, because it wins no friends among the general public. Richard A. Posner, New York Times Book Review, 31 July 2005
The genetically vicious nature of presidential campaigns in America is too obvious to argue with, but some people call it fun, and I am one of them. Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, Rolling Stone, 11 Nov. 2004
True to Finals form, this hardwood battle has become as vicious as any street scrum. Anne Marie Cruz, ESPN, 24 June 2002
For most of my life I have retained a haunting image from an old Tarzan movie: piranhas, those vicious little fish with the arrowhead-shaped teeth, devouring a pig. Forget that there are no piranha in Africa. But they do exist in Brazil, in abundance in the meandering waterways of the Amazon Basin. Gerald Eskenazi, New York Times, 6 Oct. 2002
The Olympics always seemed too much like war, vicious old men manipulating youngsters hungry for fame into performing heroic acts for short change. Robert Lipsyte, New York Times, 29 July 2001
His slider—a vicious, hard-breaking pitch with which he finished off right-handed hitters for years—was inconsistent and benign, and the velocity of his fastball was diminished. Buster Olney, New York Times Magazine, 4 Mar. 2001
a vicious tone of voice I know you're upset with her, but there's no need to be vicious.
Recent Examples on the Web The drought has worsened because of a vicious feedback cycle in which hot sunshine dries out the ground and causes temperatures to rise. Ian Livingston, Washington Post, 11 July 2024 Chicago’s Water People Theater Group is the force behind the New York premiere of Rebeca Alemán’s play, which tells the story of a human-rights journalist who emerges from a coma after a vicious attack stripped her memory. Karu F. Daniels, New York Daily News, 11 July 2024 Volkmer: The state seeking the death penalty should be limited to the most brutal and vicious, worst of the worst, cases. Christina Avery, The Arizona Republic, 10 July 2024 You could get catapulted overboard while pursuing a whale or in the throes of a vicious storm—drowning possibly close to triumph. Byallie Garfinkle, Fortune, 8 July 2024 See all Example Sentences for vicious 

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'vicious.' 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, from Anglo-French vicios, from Latin vitiosus full of faults, corrupt, from vitium vice

First Known Use

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 4

Time Traveler
The first known use of vicious was in the 14th century

Dictionary Entries Near vicious

Cite this Entry

“Vicious.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 16 Jul. 2024.

Kids Definition


vi·​cious ˈvish-əs How to pronounce vicious (audio)
: likely to do evil : wicked
: of the nature of evil : immoral
: very dangerous
a vicious dog
: having or showing hateful feelings
vicious gossip
viciously adverb
viciousness noun

More from Merriam-Webster on vicious

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