wan·ton | \ˈwȯn-tᵊn, ˈwän- \

Definition of wanton 

(Entry 1 of 3)

1a : merciless, inhumane wanton cruelty

b : having no just foundation or provocation : malicious a wanton attack

2 : being without check or limitation: such as

a : unduly lavish : extravagant wanton imagination

b : luxuriantly rank wanton vegetation

3a : lewd, bawdy

b : causing sexual excitement : lustful, sensual

4a : playfully mean or cruel : mischievous

b archaic : hard to control : undisciplined, unruly



Definition of wanton (Entry 2 of 3)

1a : one given to self-indulgent flirtation or trifling used especially in the phrase play the wanton

b : a lewd or lascivious person

2 : a pampered person or animal : pet especially : a spoiled child

3 : a frolicsome child or animal


wantoned; wantoning; wantons

Definition of wanton (Entry 3 of 3)

intransitive verb

: to be wanton or act wantonly (see wanton entry 1)

transitive verb

: to pass or waste wantonly or in wantonness

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Other Words from wanton


wantonly adverb
wantonness \ˈwȯn-tᵊn-nəs, ˈwän- \ noun


wantoner noun

Synonyms & Antonyms for wanton

Synonyms: Adjective

bawdy, blue, coarse, crude, dirty, filthy, foul, gross, impure, indecent, lascivious, lewd, nasty, obscene, ribald, smutty, vulgar

Antonyms: Adjective

clean, decent, nonobscene, wholesome

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Examples of wanton in a Sentence


No artist should be subjected to this much wanton affection: it's unseemly, like being hugged by a stranger who won't let go. — James Wolcott, New Republic, 30 Aug. 2004 I also wrote that innocent people would die as a consequence of the wanton, lawless destruction of medical stocks in a dirt-poor country. — Christopher Hitchens, Nation, 31 May 1999 While I was happy to find Mr. Pollan firmly allied with those of us who oppose the wanton broadcast of pesticides and inorganic fertilizers on lawn and garden, I wish he had lingered a little longer over this vital subject. — Maxine Kumin, New York Times Book Review, 9 June 1991 Vandals were guilty of the wanton destruction of the school property. They were accused of wanton cruelty toward animals. He showed a wanton disregard for his friend's feelings. a life of wanton luxury


He practiced the anathema he would hurl at her from his pulpit when her shame was known—hussy, slut, harlot and wanton featured heavily … — James A. Michener, Texas, 1985 During the middle years of their marriage … his campaign to free his bride so that she could become a wanton had languished. — Andrew M. Greeley, Ascent into Hell, 1983 My informal education had begun the afternoon in Belleville Park when I discovered that girls were wantons willing to sneak away to shaded glades to be kissed. — Russell Baker, Growing Up, 1982


It might well be, said Mrs McNab, wantoning on with her memories; they had friends in eastern countries; gentlemen staying there, ladies in evening dress; she had seen them once through the dining-room door all sitting at dinner. — Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse, 1927 … for Nature here / Wantoned as in her prime and played at will / Her virgin fancies, pouring forth more sweet, Wild above rule or art, enormous bliss. — John Milton, Paradise Lost, 1667

Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective

Year of the Bird In 1918 Congress passed the Migratory Bird Treaty Act to protect birds from wanton killing. National Geographic, "What Does It Take to Raise a Flamingo?," 25 June 2018 Such wanton violence probably reflects the state of mind of Mr Shekau, an enigmatic figure known through videos of his rambling monologues. The Economist, "The fight against Islamic State is moving to Africa," 14 July 2018 The main, if not only, cause of the collapse of the northern white rhino, and the devastation of black and southern white rhinos, is wanton killing of the animals, primarily for their horns. Jason Florio, Smithsonian, "The Dangerous Work of Relocating 5,000-Pound Rhinos," 22 May 2018 Watts was later charged with murder, wanton endangerment and driving under the influence, Smiley said. Thomas Novelly, The Courier-Journal, "26-year-old killed in motorcycle crash on Broadway identified," 1 July 2018 The powerful family has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, of human rights abuses and wanton plunder of national assets, during Marcos’ reign, which finally ended in 1989. Washington Post, "Sara Netanyahu preceded by avarice of other first wives," 21 June 2018 Chris Mayhew/Jordan Kellogg Jury selection begins Tuesday for Daniel Greis, 58, charged with five counts of wanton murder but the case will proceed without some of the evidence gathered. Jennie Key, Cincinnati.com, "Cop didn't read murder suspect his rights after fatal crash that claimed NKY family," 18 June 2018 Chapman was arraigned in Ayer District Court Wednesday on charges of indecent exposure, lewd, wanton and lascivious acts and open and gross lewdness and lascivious behavior, reports CBS Boston. Crimesider Staff, CBS News, "Serial child rapist, whose pending release drew outcry, arrested on new charges," 6 June 2018 Hardin, now 35, is charged with second-degree assault, first-degree wanton endangerment and first-degree official misconduct. Matthew Glowicki, The Courier-Journal, "Teen put in chokehold by a fired LMPD officer gives his testimony," 31 May 2018

Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

His rhetoric, his callousness, his wanton lies all make a compromise harder. Andrew Sullivan, Daily Intelligencer, "If We Want to End the Border Crisis, It’s Time to Give Trump His Wall," 22 June 2018 Anzelone was arraigned Wednesday in Milford District Court on charges of open and gross lewdness; lewd, wanton, and lascivious conduct; indecent exposure; and accosting or annoying another person, authorities said. Travis Andersen, BostonGlobe.com, "Milford teacher, 40, allegedly exposed himself to teen Walmart worker in store bathroom," 24 May 2018 The erotic scenes are dialectical as well as hot; the meetings have a wanton, feverish energy. A. O. Scott, New York Times, "Review: ‘BPM (Beats Per Minute)’ Captures the Fierce AIDS Fight," 19 Oct. 2017 The extremists have left a trail of wanton, sometimes bizarre, destruction. National Geographic, "Iraq's Unique Wildlife Pushed to Brink by War, Hunting," 6 Feb. 2017

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'wanton.' 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 wanton


14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 4b


1509, in the meaning defined at sense 1a


1582, in the meaning defined at intransitive sense

History and Etymology for wanton


Middle English, from wan- deficient, wrong, mis- (from Old English, from wan deficient) + towen, past participle of teen to draw, train, discipline, from Old English tēon — more at tow entry 1


see wanton entry 1


see wanton entry 1

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Statistics for wanton

Last Updated

30 Aug 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for wanton

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

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More Definitions for wanton



English Language Learners Definition of wanton

: showing no thought or care for the rights, feelings, or safety of others

: not limited or controlled

of a woman : having sex with many men


wan·ton | \ˈwȯn-tᵊn \

Kids Definition of wanton

1 : not modest or proper : indecent

2 : showing no thought or care for the rights, feelings, or safety of others wanton cruelty

Other Words from wanton

wantonly adverb
wantonness noun


wan·ton | \ˈwänt-ᵊn, ˈwȯnt- \

Legal Definition of wanton 

: manifesting extreme indifference to a risk of injury to another that is known or should have been known : characterized by knowledge of and utter disregard for probability of resulting harm a wanton act by such wanton or willful misconduct — see also reckless

Note: Wanton reckless, and willful are often used to refer to an aggravated level of negligence that borders on intent and that is often ground for an award of punitive damages.

Other Words from wanton

wantonly adverb
wantonness noun

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More from Merriam-Webster on wanton

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for wanton

Spanish Central: Translation of wanton

Nglish: Translation of wanton for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of wanton for Arabic Speakers

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