\ 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

After wreaking havoc on the Midwest, winter storm Bruce is making its way to the east coast. Jessica Leigh Mattern, Country Living, "Winter Storm Bruce Is Heading to the Northeast After Pounding the Midwest," 26 Nov. 2018 So these calculations aren't a prediction of what will happen to orcas so much as a way to put numbers on the havoc that PCBs are still capable of wreaking. Cathleen O'grady, Ars Technica, "A decades-old pollutant is still threatening orca populations," 28 Sep. 2018 Cyclone Mekunu’s outer bands were already dumping heavy rain and bending palm trees in Oman Friday after wreaking havoc on Socotra. Fox News, "Cyclone Mekunu raises fears as it nears Arabian Peninsula, at least 40 already reported missing," 25 May 2018 The difference, though, is that Wade was a deadly midrange shooter and capable of wreaking havoc as a cutter within Miami's offense. Tim Bontemps, chicagotribune.com, "76ers should go after Paul George, not LeBron James," 10 May 2018 Alternatively, take a spearfishing class to learn how to safely and sustainably harvest lionfish, an invasive species that’s been wreaking havoc on the ecosystem in recent years. Daily Intelligencer, "Authentic Ways to Experience 5 Caribbean Islands," 23 Apr. 2018 Farmers and merchants were less happy with fiat currency—not backed up by silver or gold—because of how the often-inevitable inflation wreaked havoc with their trade. Kotryna Zukauskaite, Smithsonian, "What the Founding Fathers’ Money Problems Can Teach Us About Bitcoin," 20 Mar. 2018 But the mercurial Suh has been as well known for his demonstrative, and sometimes destructive attitude, almost as much as his penchant for wreaking havoc on opposing offensive linemen. Clyde Verdin, NOLA.com, "The Saints and a boy named Suh," 15 Mar. 2018 White House envoy Jason Greenblatt has blamed Hamas for wreaking devastation on the territory. Fares Akram, The Christian Science Monitor, "Attack on Palestinian prime minister calls reconciliation into question," 13 Mar. 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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wreak havoc


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Last Updated

9 Jan 2019

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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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More from Merriam-Webster on wreak

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with wreak

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for wreak

Spanish Central: Translation of wreak

Nglish: Translation of wreak for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of wreak for Arabic Speakers

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to gather or build up little by little

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