\ˈrēk also ˈrek \
wreaked; wreaking; wreaks

Definition of wreak 

transitive verb

1a archaic : avenge

b : to cause the infliction of (vengeance or punishment)

2 : to give free play or course to (malevolent feeling)

3 : bring about, cause wreak havoc

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Did You Know?

Wreak is a venerable word that first appeared in Old English as wrecan, meaning "to drive, drive out, punish, or avenge." "Wrecan" is related to a number of similar words in the Germanic languages, including Middle Dutch "wreken" ("to punish, avenge"), Old High German rehhan ("to avenge"), Old Norse "reka" ("to drive, push, or avenge"), and Gothic "wrikan" ("to persecute"). It may also be related to Latin urgēre ("to drive on, urge"), the source of the English verb "urge." In modern English, vengeance is a common object of the verb "wreak," reflecting one of its earlier uses in the sense "to take vengeance for" - as when Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus proclaims "We will solicit heaven, and move the gods / To send down Justice for to wreak our wrongs."

Examples of wreak in a Sentence

Gangs have been wreaking mayhem in the city.

Recent Examples on the Web

All that time without treatment means the undiagnosed diabetes can quietly wreak havoc, eventually causing problems like blurred vision and nerve damage, reports the Mayo Clinic. Colleen Stinchcombe, Woman's Day, "What's the Difference Between Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes?," 10 Sep. 2018 When hot temperatures followed, the asphalt began to melt, wreaking havoc on drivers’ cars and tires. Jamie Ducharme, Time, "A Road in Australia 'Melted' and Destroyed Drivers' Tires," 5 July 2018 Blue light before bedtime can wreak havoc on our ability to fall asleep. David Lazarus, latimes.com, "California Inc.: Will Comcast raise stakes in battle for Fox?," 2 July 2018 The series focuses on a town's upheaval after a mermaid wreaks havoc on the small fishing town. Sydney Scott, Essence.com, "The Quick Read: ABC Boss Says Kneeling Was Not The Reason For Unaired 'Black-ish' Episode," 16 May 2018 As rapidly changing climates wreak havoc on our world, our skin feels the effects too. Barret Wertz, GQ, "The Best Anti-Pollution Skincare Treatments Every Guy Should Try This Summer," 14 May 2018 After the April storm wreaked havoc on the town, Pastor Lester Woodard went to check on the damage at Living Hope Missionary Baptist Church. Caitlin O'kane, CBS News, "Pastor searches for owner of wedding dress lost in tornado," 6 May 2018 As weather patterns wreak more havoc, a Pandora's box of microbes enters new terrain, stressing global public health systems. Mariette Dichristina, Scientific American, "Our Planet, Ourselves: How Climate Change Results in Emerging Diseases," 1 May 2018 Notorious attackers, like the SamSam group that wreaked havoc in Atlanta, could use an RDP shop to gain access to one of these systems. Brooke Crothers, Fox News, "Access to airport security systems are being sold by hackers for as little as $10," 13 July 2018

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

before the 12th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

History and Etymology for wreak

Middle English wreken "to drive out, avenge, vent, express (anger, etc.)," going back to Old English wrecan "to press forward, drive out, banish, avenge, punish," going back to Germanic *wrekan- "to drive out, pursue" (whence Old Saxon wrekan "to avenge," Old High German rehhan, Old Norse reka "to drive, thrust, take vengeance," Gothic wrikan "to persecute"), of uncertain origin

Note: Placed by some under Indo-European *u̯reg- "follow a track" (whence, allegedly, Sanskrit vrajant- "wandering," Latin urgēre "to press, weigh down"), though the semantic relations between compared forms are not close.

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Last Updated

13 Nov 2018

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Time Traveler for wreak

The first known use of wreak was before the 12th century

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More Definitions for wreak



English Language Learners Definition of wreak

: to cause (something very harmful or damaging)


\ˈrēk \
wreaked; wreaking

Kids Definition of wreak

: to bring down as or as if punishment The storm wreaked destruction.

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Comments on wreak

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


something that serves to warn or remind

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