\ 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 The crisis has wreaked havoc on businesses and financial markets, sending U.S. stocks to their worst losses since the Black Monday crash of 1987. Author: Stan Choe, Lori Hinnant, Tim Sullivan, Anchorage Daily News, "Impact of pandemic stretches from schools to world’s leaders," 13 Mar. 2020 The novel strand of the COVID-19 virus has wreaked havoc on global economies as nations close borders and quarantine major urban sites in an effort to ward off the spread of the illness. Spencer Neale, Washington Examiner, "Hannity promotes Qanon conspiracy theorist who claims ‘deep state’ using coronavirus to 'manipulate economies'," 12 Mar. 2020 Lack of exfoliation, pollution, stress, sleep deprivation, dehydration, sun damage, hormones, and a poor diet can all wreak havoc on your skin. Allie Morris, Dallas News, "3 Quick Procedures to Rejuvenate Your Look," 12 Mar. 2020 The growing outbreak has wreaked havoc on the travel and tourism industry and has disrupted manufacturing supply chains, from cars to smartphones. BostonGlobe.com, "Stocks plunge in worst drop since 2008," 10 Mar. 2020 The spread of the new coronavirus has already wreaked economic havoc. John Greenwood And Steve H. Hanke, WSJ, "How the Federal Reserve Can Ease the Coronavirus Panic," 9 Mar. 2020 Cramps can wreak havoc on your abdomen and even your lower back. Kaleigh Fasanella, Teen Vogue, "9 Best Heating Pads for Cramps," 6 Mar. 2020 Flooding and severe weather due to climate change has wreaked further damage, as has widespread use of pesticides by farmers in hornbill habitat. National Geographic, "Southern ground hornbill," 2 Mar. 2020 The virus has already wreaked havoc on global supply chains and hit company profits. Laura He, CNN, "Global markets are still getting hammered by the coronavirus outbreak," 24 Feb. 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

Time Traveler

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

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Last Updated

19 Mar 2020

Cite this Entry

“Wreak.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/wreak. Accessed 30 Mar. 2020.

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More Definitions for wreak


How to pronounce wreak (audio) How to pronounce wreak (audio)

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

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with 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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