cru·​el | \ ˈkrü(-ə)l How to pronounce cruel (audio) \
crueler or crueller; cruelest or cruellest

Definition of cruel

1 : disposed to inflict pain or suffering : devoid of humane feelings a cruel tyrant has a cruel heart
2a : causing or conducive to injury, grief, or pain a cruel joke a cruel twist of fate
b : unrelieved by leniency cruel punishment

Other Words from cruel

cruelly \ ˈkrü-​(ə-​)lē How to pronounce cruel (audio) \ adverb
cruelness noun

Choose the Right Synonym for cruel

fierce, ferocious, barbarous, savage, cruel mean showing fury or malignity in looks or actions. fierce applies to humans and animals that inspire terror because of their wild and menacing aspect or fury in attack. fierce warriors ferocious implies extreme fierceness and unrestrained violence and brutality. a ferocious dog barbarous implies a ferocity or mercilessness regarded as unworthy of civilized people. barbarous treatment of prisoners savage implies the absence of inhibitions restraining civilized people filled with rage, lust, or other violent passion. a savage criminal cruel implies indifference to suffering and even positive pleasure in inflicting it. the cruel jokes of schoolboys

Examples of cruel in a Sentence

a cruel twist of fate Hunger is a cruel fact of nature.
Recent Examples on the Web In 2012, the federal court recognized a group of people in Arizona prisons who claimed their Eighth Amendment rights against cruel and unusual punishment were being violated. Jimmy Jenkins, The Arizona Republic, 16 Nov. 2021 This is cruel and defies the core tenets of the world’s second-largest religion. Amina J. Mohammed And Lana Zaki Nusseibeh, WSJ, 11 Nov. 2021 The law stipulates that punishment cannot be cruel and unusual. Ira Bedzow, STAT, 26 Oct. 2021 The critiques are optional after some lawsuits, but mandatory for the types of claims listed above, plus claims related to failure to protect, searches, cruel and unusual punishment, access to the courts and deliberate indifference. Paul Egan, Detroit Free Press, 21 Oct. 2021 The suit also accuses the city of violating the California Constitution’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. Justin Ray, Los Angeles Times, 28 Sep. 2021 The Justice Department has said that Alabama prisons constitute cruel and unusual punishment. Kyle Whitmire, al, 27 Sep. 2021 The case dates from 2006, when California last executed a prisoner, and was filed in federal court under the constitutional right to be free of cruel and unusual punishment. Bob Egelko, San Francisco Chronicle, 16 Sep. 2021 Years later, in 1977, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that imposing the death penalty in cases of rape amounted to cruel and unusual punishment under the Constitution. Washington Post, 31 Aug. 2021

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'cruel.' 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 cruel

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for cruel

Middle English, from Anglo-French, from Latin crudelis, from crudus — see crude entry 1

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Time Traveler for cruel

Time Traveler

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

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Statistics for cruel

Last Updated

20 Nov 2021

Cite this Entry

“Cruel.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 1 Dec. 2021.

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More Definitions for cruel



English Language Learners Definition of cruel

used to describe people who hurt others and do not feel sorry about it
: causing or helping to cause suffering : terrible and unfair


cru·​el | \ ˈkrü-əl How to pronounce cruel (audio) \
crueler or crueller; cruelest or cruellest

Kids Definition of cruel

1 : wanting to cause others to suffer a cruel ruler
2 : causing or helping to cause suffering cruel punishment a cruel joke

Other Words from cruel

cruelly adverb

More from Merriam-Webster on cruel

Nglish: Translation of cruel for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of cruel for Arabic Speakers


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