Synonyms & Antonyms of cruel

1 having or showing the desire to inflict severe pain and suffering on others
  • a cruel dictator who tortured anyone who dared to speak out against him
  • cruel and unusual punishments are forbidden by the U.S. Constitution

Synonyms for cruel

Words Related to cruel

Phrases Synonymous with cruel

Near Antonyms for cruel

Antonyms for cruel

See the Dictionary Definition 

Frequently Asked Questions About cruel

How is the word cruel different from other adjectives like it?

Some common synonyms of cruel are barbarous, ferocious, fierce, and savage. While all these words mean "showing fury or malignity in looks or actions," cruel implies indifference to suffering and even positive pleasure in inflicting it.

the cruel jokes of schoolboys

When is barbarous a more appropriate choice than cruel?

The synonyms barbarous and cruel are sometimes interchangeable, but barbarous implies a ferocity or mercilessness regarded as unworthy of civilized people.

barbarous treatment of prisoners

When is it sensible to use ferocious instead of cruel?

While the synonyms ferocious and cruel are close in meaning, ferocious implies extreme fierceness and unrestrained violence and brutality.

a ferocious dog

When could fierce be used to replace cruel?

The meanings of fierce and cruel largely overlap; however, fierce applies to humans and animals that inspire terror because of their wild and menacing aspect or fury in attack.

fierce warriors

In what contexts can savage take the place of cruel?

Although the words savage and cruel have much in common, savage implies the absence of inhibitions restraining civilized people filled with rage, lust, or other violent passion.

a savage criminal

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about cruel

Time Traveler for cruel

Time Traveler

The first known use of cruel was in the 14th century

See more words from the same century

Cite this Entry

“Cruel.” Thesaurus, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 14 Apr. 2021.

Style: MLA
MLACheck Mark Icon ChicagoCheck Mark Icon APACheck Mark Icon Merriam-WebsterCheck Mark Icon

Keep scrolling for more

More from Merriam-Webster on cruel

Dictionary: Definition of cruel

Nglish: Translation of cruel for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of cruel for Arabic Speakers

Comments on cruel

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


Test Your Vocabulary

The Exceptions Quiz III

  • one green toy robot amidst many red toy robots
  • Which of these words does not mean "nonsense"?
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?

 AlphaBear 2

Spell words. Make bears.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!