wreaked; wreaking; wreaks

transitive verb

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

Did you know?

In its early days, wreak was synonymous with avenge, a meaning exemplified when Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus proclaims "We will solicit heaven, and move the gods / To send down Justice for to wreak our wrongs." This sense is now archaic, but the association hasn't been lost: although wreak is today most often paired with havoc, it is also still sometimes paired with vengeance. We humbly suggest you avoid wreaking either, no matter how badly you may crave your just deserts.

Examples of wreak in a Sentence

Gangs have been wreaking mayhem in the city.
Recent Examples on the Web Now, 54 years later, the recent cyberattack on Change Healthcare is wreaking similar havoc on the economic infrastructure of the healthcare system. Seth Joseph, Forbes, 28 Mar. 2024 The crisis in Haiti intensified early this month as rival gangs began wreaking coordinated havoc, security sources said. Colin McCullough, CNN, 18 Mar. 2024 Fissure eruptions on land, such as the current one, produce little ash and usually wreak no havoc on air travel. TIME, 8 Feb. 2024 During the later decades of the last century, economic free-fall and repression crippled much of the region, some of it instigated by the C.I.A., with trade agreements like NAFTA decimating many small, rural businesses, then globalization wreaking further havoc. Michael Kimmelman Clement Pascal, New York Times, 3 Apr. 2024 Tournament organizers cut off alcohol sales later that day when the massive crowd inside the gates proved too much for security and began wreaking drunken havoc. Sam Kmack, The Arizona Republic, 21 Mar. 2024 The crisis in Haiti intensified earlier this month as criminal gangs and militias began wreaking coordinated havoc on businesses and leaving necessities including food, medicine and gas in short supply. Alexandra Banner, CNN, 20 Mar. 2024 But since Riley is entering her teen years, Envy, Embarrassment, and Ennui arrive too, and start wreaking even more havoc. Lauren Brown West-Rosenthal, Parents, 18 Mar. 2024 For the Sons, most Republicans are sellouts, except for the ultra-right Freedom Caucus, a band of congressional disrupters that has wreaked legislative havoc and forced then-Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) from his post as speaker of the House last year. Jeffrey Fleishman, Los Angeles Times, 12 Mar. 2024

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

Word History


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.

First Known Use

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

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


Dictionary Entries Near wreak

Cite this Entry

“Wreak.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/wreak. Accessed 19 Apr. 2024.

Kids Definition


: to bring down in or as if in punishment
wreak revenge on the enemy
the storm wreaked destruction

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