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[sturn] /stɜrn/
adjective, sterner, sternest.
firm, strict, or uncompromising:
stern discipline.
hard, harsh, or severe:
a stern reprimand.
rigorous or austere; of an unpleasantly serious character:
stern times.
grim or forbidding in aspect:
a stern face.
Origin of stern1
before 1000; Middle English; Old English styrne
Related forms
sternly, adverb
sternness, noun
1, 2. adamant, unrelenting, unsympathetic, cruel, unfeeling. Stern, severe, harsh agree in referring to methods, aspects, manners, or facial expressions. Stern implies uncompromising, inflexible firmness, and sometimes a hard, forbidding, or withdrawn aspect or nature: a stern parent. Severe implies strictness, lack of sympathy, and a tendency to impose a hard discipline on others: a severe judge. Harsh suggests a great severity and roughness, and cruel, unfeeling treatment of others: a harsh critic.
1. lenient. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2017.
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Examples from the Web for sternest
Historical Examples
  • It was the sternest school of self-reliance, from babyhood to the grave, that human society is ever likely to witness.

    The American Mind Bliss Perry
  • These were the sternest estimates of his claim to social recognition.

    Robert Orange John Oliver Hobbes
  • Yet civilized nations acknowledge retaliation as the sternest feature of war.

    International Law George Grafton Wilson and George Fox Tucker
  • "Answer me at once," said Mr. Wilton, in his sternest voice.

    The Children of Wilton Chase Mrs. L. T. Meade
  • Then came the rugged unvarnished statement shouted forth in the speaker's sternest voice.

    We Two Edna Lyall
  • All were armed and ready for instant work of the sternest kind.

  • "It's worse; it's improper," cried Mrs. Parry in her sternest voice.

    A Coin of Edward VII Fergus Hume
  • I reprove it in the sternest terms, and I deplore the consequences it had.

    The Snare Rafael Sabatini
  • How different the despotism of a Spanish viceroy and the sternest rule of a British governor!

  • What have I ever done that the sternest critic could call rummy?

    Jill the Reckless P. G. (Pelham Grenville) Wodehouse
British Dictionary definitions for sternest


showing uncompromising or inflexible resolve; firm, strict, or authoritarian
lacking leniency or clemency; harsh or severe
relentless; unyielding: the stern demands of parenthood
having an austere or forbidding appearance or nature
Derived Forms
sternly, adverb
sternness, noun
Word Origin
Old English styrne; related to Old High German stornēn to alarm, Latin sternāx stubborn, Greek stereos hard


the rear or after part of a vessel, opposite the bow or stem
the rear part of any object
the tail of certain breeds of dog, such as the foxhound or beagle
relating to or located at the stern
Word Origin
C13: from Old Norse stjōrn steering; see steer1


Isaac. 1920–2001, US concert violinist, born in (what is now) Ukraine
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for sternest



Old English styrne "severe, strict," from Proto-Germanic *sternijaz (cf. Middle High German sterre, German starr "stiff," störrig "obstinate;" Gothic andstaurran "to be stiff;" Old Norse stara; Old English starian "to look or gaze upon"), from PIE root *ster-, *star- "be rigid" (see sterile).


c.1300, "hind part of a ship, steering gear of a ship," probably from Old Norse stjorn "a steering," related to styra "to guide" (see steer (v.)). Or the word may come from Old Frisian stiarne "rudder," which is also related to steer (v.).

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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Idioms and Phrases with sternest
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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