\ 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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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 Iran is believed to have used $100 million in sanctions relief to wreak havoc across the Middle East, funding terrorists and militias in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen. Abraham Mahshie, Washington Examiner, "Taliban's actions will complicate removing all US troops from Afghanistan, Central Command chief warns," 8 Feb. 2021 Delays in legislative redistricting could wreak havoc elsewhere in the political system. oregonlive, "Oregon lawmakers’ ability to redraw legislative lines in question, with census data delayed," 6 Feb. 2021 The ad for the dating site shows Satan and 2020 matching via the app, then meeting up in person to wreak havoc together — a true love story. Rasha Ali, USA TODAY, "Taylor Swift debuts snippet of re-recorded 'Love Story' thanks to Ryan Reynolds," 3 Dec. 2020 Digital extortionists trying to capture as many ransom payments as possible could wreak havoc across multiple industries and sectors—leaving disruptive and potentially destructive collateral damage in their wake. Lily Hay Newman, Wired, "Ransomware Hits Dozens of Hospitals in an Unprecedented Wave," 29 Oct. 2020 The point is that in the age of social media, hackers, competitors and other bad actors have a new tool to wreak havoc online, without ever needing the technical prowess to break into corporate networks. Robert Mcmillan, WSJ, "Brands Face a New Online Threat: Disinformation Attacks," 8 Oct. 2020 Dogs might be high on the list of predators; stray dogs — or the neighbors’ dog — come into yards and wreak havoc with domestic birds and rabbits. John Schandelmeier, Anchorage Daily News, "Alaska’s hard-core predators don’t have it as easy as you may think," 20 Dec. 2020 By targeting providers with attacks that scramble and lock up data until victims pay a ransom, hackers can demand thousands or millions of dollars and wreak havoc until they're paid. Arkansas Online, "As hospitals cope with a covid-19 surge, cyber threats loom," 5 Dec. 2020 Stay-at-home orders are increasingly unpopular, wreak havoc on the economy and leave some people feeling even more isolated and depressed. Los Angeles Times, "Lockdowns are depressing and economically devastating. But California might not have a choice," 5 Dec. 2020

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 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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Time Traveler for wreak

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

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Last Updated

16 Feb 2021

Cite this Entry

“Wreak.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/wreak. Accessed 27 Feb. 2021.

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More Definitions for wreak



English Language Learners Definition of wreak

: to cause (something very harmful or damaging)


\ ˈrēk How to pronounce wreak (audio) \
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

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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