wan·​ton | \ ˈwȯn-tᵊn How to pronounce wanton (audio) , ˈwän- How to pronounce wanton (audio) \

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

Keep scrolling for more

Other Words from wanton


wantonly adverb
wantonness \ ˈwȯn-​tᵊn-​nəs How to pronounce wantonness (audio) , ˈwän-​ \ noun


wantoner noun

Examples of wanton in a Sentence

Adjective 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 Noun 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 Verb 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 Twan Moore, 25, was charged with first degree wanton endangerment, second degree disorderly conduct and one charge of firing a firearm on a public road. Sarah Ladd, The Courier-Journal, "Three arrested after Louisville Police say they fired guns on public road in downtown," 5 May 2020 Burnett is being charged with wanton endangerment in the first degree, contempt of a court libel/slander resistance to order, and criminal mischief in the second degree. Andrew Mark Miller, Washington Examiner, "Woman with coronavirus arrested at grocery store for violating quarantine order," 28 Apr. 2020 Sullivan is charged with burglary, kidnapping and wanton endangerment. Chris Mayhew, Cincinnati.com, "Independence police exchange gunfire with suspect overnight," 23 Apr. 2020 He's been charged with murder, two counts of first degree wanton endangerment and first degree assault. Sarah Ladd, The Courier-Journal, "Louisville police: 18-year-old kills person in drug deal gone bad, confesses to his mother," 27 Apr. 2020 Some believe the wanton slaughter produced the unsanitary conditions that triggered the plague. Los Angeles Times, "Commentary: Napoleon has it all over Trump when it comes to spinning plague propaganda," 23 Apr. 2020 Like any migratory gamebird, wanton waste, which means to intentionally waste, neglect, or use inappropriately, comes into play. Brad Fenson, Outdoor Life, "8 Ways to Prepare Snow Goose Meat," 2 Apr. 2020 Trump’s ongoing influence campaign has been widely treated as another egregious example of the president’s wanton disregard for long-standing norms—in this case, the protection of monetary policy from the exigencies of electoral politics. Christopher W. Shaw, Harper's Magazine, "The Money Question," 30 Mar. 2020 The suspect was arrested on two counts of assault, domestic violence, and wanton disregard for public safety. Brian Lisik, cleveland, "Drunken man is arrested after mistaking an Applebee’s for his hotel room: Independence Police Blotter," 3 Mar. 2020 Recent Examples on the Web: Noun That office confirmed that a jury found Chapman not guilty of open and gross lewdness and lewd, wanton, and lascivious acts. Danny Mcdonald, BostonGlobe.com, "Convicted child rapist Wayne Chapman found not guilty of exposing himself to prison staff," 9 Aug. 2019 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 Recent Examples on the Web: Verb All of the attacks were wanton, aimed at destruction of the cultural and artistic heritage of humanity. David J. Wasserstein, The Conversation, "Trump’s Twitter threat to destroy Iran’s cultural sites is a historic mistake," 7 Jan. 2020

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.

See More

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

Adjective, Noun, and Verb

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

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about wanton

Time Traveler for wanton

Time Traveler

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

See more words from the same century

Statistics for wanton

Last Updated

23 May 2020

Cite this Entry

“Wanton.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/wanton. Accessed 5 Jun. 2020.

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for wanton


How to pronounce wanton (audio) How to pronounce wanton (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of wanton

: showing no thought or care for the rights, feelings, or safety of others
: not limited or controlled
old-fashioned, of a woman : having sex with many men


wan·​ton | \ ˈwȯn-tᵊn How to pronounce wanton (audio) \

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- How to pronounce wanton (audio) \

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: Wantonreckless, 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

Keep scrolling for more

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

Comments on wanton

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


See Definitions and Examples »

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

May 2020 Words of the Day Quiz

  • a blooming wisteria tree
  • Which is a synonym of exiguous?
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?

Dictionary Devil

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!