sul·​ly | \ ˈsə-lē How to pronounce sully (audio) \
sullied; sullying

Definition of sully

 (Entry 1 of 4)

transitive verb

: to make soiled or tarnished : defile


plural sullies

Definition of sully (Entry 2 of 4)

: soil, stain


biographical name (1)
Sul·​ly | \ ˈsə-lē How to pronounce Sully (audio) , (ˌ)sə-ˈlē, sᵫ-ˈlē \

Definition of Sully (Entry 3 of 4)

Duc de 1560–1641 Maximilien de Béthune Baron de Rosny \ də-​rō-​ˈnē How to pronounce Sully (audio) \ French statesman


biographical name (2)
Sul·​ly | \ ˈsə-lē How to pronounce Sully (audio) \

Definition of Sully (Entry 4 of 4)

Thomas 1783–1872 American (English-born) painter

Synonyms & Antonyms for sully

Synonyms: Verb

Antonyms: Verb

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The spelling of sully has shifted several times since it was sylian in Old English, but its meaning has remained essentially the same: "to soil." In case you are wondering whether sullen (meaning "gloomy or morose") is a relative, the answer is "no." Sullen comes from Latin solus, meaning "alone."

Examples of sully in a Sentence

Verb people that sully our state parks with their trash a once-gleaming marble interior sullied by decades of exposure to cigarette smoke
Recent Examples on the Web: Verb Anyway, what would be the point of selling people on a safe space just to sully it with dangers? Alex Shephard, The New Republic, 8 Nov. 2021 On March 16th, Josh Vlasto, a longtime adviser to Cuomo, wrote in a group text that Cohen had approached him about the effort to sully Kim. Ronan Farrow, The New Yorker, 10 Aug. 2021 Unplanned bathroom breaks can sully a pleasant hike. Siena Giljum, Los Angeles Times, 12 July 2021 Plus, if Susie allows even a speck of her outrage to sully her son’s relationship with his dad, then her offense would be worse than your hitting on Debbie. Washington Post, 29 June 2020 Sleights of hand sullied the reputations of Teddy Roosevelt, Wilson, FDR, Kennedy, Johnson and Reagan, giving Trump’s mistruths a long history. Washington Post, 28 May 2020 The high death toll in nursing homes also sullies Sweden’s record. Peter Coy,, 16 May 2020 The company suffered further embarrassment from internal messages, which sullied Boeing’s reputation for safety and engineering prowess. Julie Johnsson, Fortune, 29 Jan. 2020 And there certainly wasn’t a sense of impending forgiveness, which our society seems willing to bestow on so many sullied public figures, be they Hugh Grant or Alex Rodriguez, Sean Spicer or Tiger Woods. Gabe Lacques, USA TODAY, 15 Jan. 2020

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


15th century, in the meaning defined above


1601, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for sully


Middle English *sullien, probably alteration (influenced by Anglo-French suillier, soiller to soil) of sulen to soil, from Old English sylian

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Time Traveler for sully

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The first known use of sully was in the 15th century

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Last Updated

5 Jan 2022

Cite this Entry

“Sully.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 19 Jan. 2022.

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More Definitions for sully



English Language Learners Definition of sully

: to damage or ruin the good quality of (something)

More from Merriam-Webster on sully

Nglish: Translation of sully for Spanish Speakers


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