\ ˈrēk How to pronounce wreak (audio) also ˈrek How to pronounce wreak (audio) \
wreaked; wreaking; wreaks

Definition of wreak

transitive verb

1 : bring about, cause wreak havoc
2a : to cause the infliction of (vengeance or punishment)
b archaic : avenge
3 : to give free play or course to (malevolent feeling)

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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 Fourteen robust species were recruited from Brazil’s Mata Atlântica rainforest, but concerns mounted that São Paulo’s gusty winds might wreak havoc with a vertical forest. Paige Darrah, WSJ, 6 May 2022 Without Embiid defending the paint, Heat center Bam Adebayo has been able to wreak havoc. Matt Eppers, USA TODAY, 5 May 2022 In this supernatural horror, possessed inanimate objects wreak havoc on the lives of people who commit deadly sins. Naman Ramachandran, Variety, 28 Apr. 2022 Free agency could wreak havoc with the World Series rosters of the Houston Astros and Atlanta Braves. Dan Schlossberg, Forbes, 30 Oct. 2021 The lyrics wreak with insecurity from a guy who seemed threatened by the attention punk and new wave bands were getting. Troy L. Smith, cleveland, 13 May 2021 But as claims languish and the pandemic continues to wreak havoc with the economy, prosecutors are frustrated that little has changed. Los Angeles Times, 24 Nov. 2020 From the defensive end position, Iowa State has been able to wreak havoc against opposing signal callers with Will McDonald IV and JaQuan Bailey. Brice Paterik, Dallas News, 7 Oct. 2020 Until then, expect inflation to continue to wreak havoc on the American economy. Edwin T. Burton, National Review, 7 Mar. 2022 See More

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.

First Known Use of wreak

before the 12th century, in the meaning defined at sense 2b

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

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Last Updated

11 May 2022

Cite this Entry

“Wreak.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/wreak. Accessed 20 May. 2022.

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More Definitions for wreak


\ ˈrēk How to pronounce wreak (audio) \
wreaked; wreaking

Kids Definition of wreak

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

More from Merriam-Webster on wreak

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for wreak

Nglish: Translation of wreak for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of wreak for Arabic Speakers


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