vicious

adjective

vi·​cious ˈvi-shəs How to pronounce vicious (audio)
1
a
: dangerously aggressive : savage
a vicious dog
b
: marked by violence or ferocity : fierce
a vicious fight
2
: malicious, spiteful
vicious gossip
3
: worsened by internal causes that reciprocally augment each other
a vicious wage-price spiral
4
: having the nature or quality of vice or immorality : depraved
5
6
viciously adverb
viciousness noun
Choose the Right Synonym for vicious

vicious, villainous, iniquitous, nefarious, corrupt, degenerate mean highly reprehensible or offensive in character, nature, or conduct.

vicious may directly oppose virtuous in implying moral depravity, or may connote malignancy, cruelty, or destructive violence.

a vicious gangster

villainous applies to any evil, depraved, or vile conduct or characteristic.

a villainous assault

iniquitous implies absence of all signs of justice or fairness.

an iniquitous system of taxation

nefarious suggests flagrant breaching of time-honored laws and traditions of conduct.

the nefarious rackets of organized crime

corrupt stresses a loss of moral integrity or probity causing betrayal of principle or sworn obligations.

city hall was rife with corrupt politicians

degenerate suggests having sunk to an especially vicious or enervated condition.

a degenerate regime propped up by foreign powers

Example Sentences

Challenging areas of social consensus, however dumb or even vicious the consensus, is largely off limits for the media, because it wins no friends among the general public. Richard A. Posner, New York Times Book Review, 31 July 2005 The genetically vicious nature of presidential campaigns in America is too obvious to argue with, but some people call it fun, and I am one of them. Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, Rolling Stone, 11 Nov. 2004 True to Finals form, this hardwood battle has become as vicious as any street scrum. Anne Marie Cruz, ESPN, 24 June 2002 For most of my life I have retained a haunting image from an old Tarzan movie: piranhas, those vicious little fish with the arrowhead-shaped teeth, devouring a pig. Forget that there are no piranha in Africa. But they do exist in Brazil, in abundance in the meandering waterways of the Amazon Basin. Gerald Eskenazi, New York Times, 6 Oct. 2002 The Olympics always seemed too much like war, vicious old men manipulating youngsters hungry for fame into performing heroic acts for short change. Robert Lipsyte, New York Times, 29 July 2001 His slider—a vicious, hard-breaking pitch with which he finished off right-handed hitters for years—was inconsistent and benign, and the velocity of his fastball was diminished. Buster Olney, New York Times Magazine, 4 Mar. 2001 a vicious tone of voice I know you're upset with her, but there's no need to be vicious. See More
Recent Examples on the Web The ironic aspect of this is that prolonging what needs to be done can further exacerbate stress — and restart the vicious cycle. Zee Krstic, Good Housekeeping, 22 Nov. 2022 Dodger Stadium has been the site of three especially vicious attacks. Thomas Curwen, Los Angeles Times, 20 Nov. 2022 Other cities in the country had experienced these types of vicious attacks, but Kyiv, especially its historic downtown, had been spared. Sam Skove, The New Republic, 12 Oct. 2022 Case workers confront hostile and sometimes violent parents, biting dogs, the risk of lawsuits, and a more recent job hazard, vicious attacks on social media. Mike Cason | Mcason@al.com, al, 1 Oct. 2022 In March, a survey by Science found that doctors and scientists who continued to warn about covid’s dangers received an onslaught of vicious attacks, including death and rape threats. Taylor Lorenz, Washington Post, 18 Aug. 2022 The incidents in the report include vicious attacks, nips and bites. cleveland, 3 June 2022 For the communities bearing the brunt of such vicious online attacks, though, the false blame stirs fears of further discrimination and violence. David Klepper, Ali Swenson, Anchorage Daily News, 26 May 2022 For the communities bearing the brunt of such vicious online attacks, though, the false blame stirs fears of further discrimination and violence. CBS News, 26 May 2022 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'vicious.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

Word History

Etymology

Middle English, from Anglo-French vicios, from Latin vitiosus full of faults, corrupt, from vitium vice

First Known Use

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 4

Time Traveler
The first known use of vicious was in the 14th century

Dictionary Entries Near vicious

Cite this Entry

“Vicious.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/vicious. Accessed 1 Dec. 2022.

Kids Definition

vicious

adjective

vi·​cious ˈvish-əs How to pronounce vicious (audio)
1
a
: likely to do evil : wicked
b
: of the nature of evil : immoral
2
: very dangerous
a vicious dog
3
: having or showing hateful feelings
vicious gossip
viciously adverb
viciousness noun

Medical Definition

vicious

adjective

vi·​cious ˈvish-əs How to pronounce vicious (audio)
1
: dangerously aggresive
a vicious dog
2
: of, relating to, or being perverse or abnormal behavior in a domestic animal

More from Merriam-Webster on vicious

Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
Love words? Need even more definitions?

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


Challenging Words You Should Know

  • hedgehog reading a book
  • Often used to describe “the march of time,” what does inexorable mean?
Spell It

Hear a word and type it out. How many can you get right?

TAKE THE QUIZ
Universal Daily Crossword

A daily challenge for crossword fanatics.

TAKE THE QUIZ