1 of 6

noun (1)

: a wrecked ship
: wreck
dialect : the violent destruction of a structure, machine, or vehicle
: marine vegetation
especially : kelp
: dried seaweeds


2 of 6

noun (2)

: a remnant of something destroyed


3 of 6

verb (1)

wracked; wracking; wracks

transitive verb

: to utterly ruin : wreck


4 of 6

verb (2)

wracked; wracking; wracks


5 of 6

noun (3)


6 of 6

noun (4)

Frequently Asked Questions

Do you rack or wrack your brain?

Wrack and rack are etymologically distinct, meaning they come from different words. Many usage guides will advise that you should use wrack for meanings such as "to utterly ruin," and rack for "to cause to suffer torture, pain, anguish, or ruin." If you follow this advice, the proper choice for what you do to your brain when thinking very hard is rack. However, wrack has long been used as a variant of rack, and numerous fine writers have avowedly wracked their brains or found something nerve-wracking.

Is it racked or wracked with pain?

Some guides feel that "racked with pain" is the preferable choice, although wrack is in many cases an acceptable variant. The verbs are often conflated despite their very different origins (the former from Middle Dutch rekken, meaning "to stretch," and the latter from the Middle English word for shipwreck, wrak).

"Do you rack up or wrack up debts?"

While there are a number of settings in which wrack is considered an acceptable variant of rack, the accumulation of debts is not one of them. In this context rack up typically means "to achieve, score; to accumulate."

Examples of wrack in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web
These are things that like really wrack the minds of a lot of creatives. Mark Olsen, Los Angeles Times, 14 Dec. 2023 The shaking toppled thousands of buildings and heaped more misery on a region wracked by Syria’s 12-year civil war and refugee crisis. Bradford Betz, Fox News, 22 Dec. 2023 The show wracked up eight nominations, with three of the six nominees in the best actor in a drama category taken up by Succession stars Brian Cox, Jeremy Strong and Kieran Culkin. Rebecca Aizin, Peoplemag, 18 Dec. 2023 Myanmar, already wracked by a brutal civil war, has regained the unenviable title of the world’s biggest opium producer, according to a United Nations agency report released Dec. 12. Grant Peck, The Christian Science Monitor, 13 Dec. 2023 Rather than wracking up your gas bill by turning up the central heating system in your entire home, a space heater warms only a specific area instead. Wendy Vazquez, Better Homes & Gardens, 19 Dec. 2023 Her mother, wracked with grief, still wanted to speak to us about her innocent little girl. Greg Palkot, Fox News, 3 Dec. 2023 The island of Mindanao in the southern Philippines, which includes a Muslim-majority autonomous region, has historically been wracked with armed conflict, and insurgent groups remain active in some areas. Regine Cabato, Washington Post, 3 Dec. 2023 Much more mysterious is a moment much later in the movie, when Joe (Riverdale's Charles Melton) comes home to find Gracie alone in the bedroom, wracked with sobs — one of her dessert clients is leaving town and canceling any future orders. Tom Gliatto, Peoplemag, 30 Nov. 2023
Another word supporters use for the recognizable high tide line is the wrack line. Brian Amaral, BostonGlobe.com, 31 May 2023 Historically, small amounts of Sargassum have washed ashore with other beach wrack material such as sea grass, sponges and soft corals. George Petras, USA TODAY, 20 Mar. 2023 The legislation would set the boundary for people to exercise their constitutional right to access the shore in Rhode Island at six feet landward of the mark left by the water from a rising tide — in other words, six feet landward of the seaweed line or the wrack line. Brian Amaral, BostonGlobe.com, 6 Apr. 2023 Clad in the coastal fashion – red fisherman’s shirt, khaki shorts, and flip-flops – the architect of the island’s defenses peers at his creation: an award-winning network of dunes, wind fences, and walkovers, overclad with native plants, some washed in on wrack. Patrik Jonsson, The Christian Science Monitor, 15 Sep. 2021 Beach wrack helps stabilize shorelines and feeds dune plants. George Petras, USA TODAY, 20 Mar. 2023 Meanwhile, food and medicine shortages – which come as Pakistan’s security situation deteriorates and power outages wrack cities – have many working-class people pointing fingers at their rulers. Hasan Ali, The Christian Science Monitor, 23 Feb. 2023 The House last year passed its own legislation fixing the line at six feet landward of what’s often called the wrack line or seaweed line. Brian Amaral, BostonGlobe.com, 17 Feb. 2023 The first explorations of its material properties date back to World War II, but today fabrics like SeaCell and C-Fiber are made from knotted wrack, a bumpy brown algae harvested from the sea off Iceland. New York Times, 22 Apr. 2021 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'wrack.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


Noun (1)

Middle English wrak, borrowed from Middle Dutch wrac, wracke & Middle Low German wrak, going back to Germanic *wrak-a- "something driven," noun derivative from the base of Germanic *wrekan- "to drive out, pursue" — more at wreak

Noun (2)

Middle English wrake, wrak, going back to Old English wracu (genitive wræce) & wræc "vengeance, persecution, misery," noun derivatives from the base of Germanic *wrekan- "to drive out, pursue" — more at wreak

Verb (1)

earlier, "to undergo shipwreck, cast ashore by shipwreck," derivative of wrack entry 1

Verb (2)

by alteration

First Known Use

Noun (1)

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

Noun (2)

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Verb (1)

1562, in the meaning defined above

Verb (2)

circa 1555, in the meaning defined above

Noun (3)

1591, in the meaning defined above

Noun (4)

1794, in the meaning defined above

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

Dictionary Entries Near wrack

Cite this Entry

“Wrack.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/wrack. Accessed 24 Feb. 2024.

Kids Definition


: violent or total destruction : ruin

More from Merriam-Webster on wrack

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