\ 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

The reason is that treatment can wreak havoc in many ways, sometimes without improving life expectancy. Steven Petrow, Washington Post, "Watching but not treating cancer can be hard. Sometimes it’s the right approach.," 20 May 2018 Just a few weeks into the 2018 fire season, any hopes that an ongoing drought and a winter of weak snowfall wouldn’t wreak havoc are already toast. Jordan Golson, WIRED, "The Sooty, Swirling Logistics of Fighting 2018's First Major Wildfire," 5 July 2018 Addiction psychiatrist George Kolodner has seen firsthand the devastation wreaked on both addict and loved one. Alexandra Rockey Fleming, chicagotribune.com, "Opioid addiction and overdoses in children devastate their parents," 3 July 2018 Any stumbles in tech-stock prices could raise the risk of market contagion and wreak havoc on portfolios. Michael Wursthorn, WSJ, "Investors Double Down on Tech in Rocky Quarter for Stocks," 29 June 2018 She was also affected by seeing up close the devastation wreaked on New York City after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Randy Lewis, latimes.com, "To Hurray for the Riff Raff's Alynda Segarra, the personal is political," 29 June 2018 Ahmed Musa's double did the trick, and the pace and pressure that Nigeria applied to Iceland could wreak havoc on an Argentina side that has looked slow and disinterested in defense in two matches. Avi Creditor, SI.com, "LIVE: Argentina Plays for Its World Cup Survival vs. Nigeria," 26 June 2018 Aardvark is prioritizing orders from sensitive coastal regions, like the Bay Area, where plastic straws can wreak special havoc on ocean habitats. Lou Bustamante, SFChronicle.com, "With plastic straws on way out, Bay Area bartenders face paper straw shortage," 19 June 2018 The swarms of bugs have caused some broadcasters to cancel live shots and are wreaking havoc in the city's fan zones. Jesse Yomtov, USA TODAY, "Massive swarms of bugs are invading the World Cup ahead of England-Tunisia in Volgograd," 18 June 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

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


the setting in which something occurs

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