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[suhl-uh n] /ˈsʌl ən/
showing irritation or ill humor by a gloomy silence or reserve.
persistently and silently ill-humored; morose.
indicative of gloomy ill humor.
gloomy or dismal, as weather or a sound.
sluggish, as a stream.
Obsolete. malignant, as planets or influences.
Origin of sullen
1565-75; earlier solein, Middle English < ?
Related forms
sullenly, adverb
sullenness, noun
unsullen, adjective
unsullenly, adverb
1. See cross. 1, 2. See glum. 2. sulky, moody, sour, bad-tempered. 4. cheerless, clouded, overcast, somber, mournful, dark. 5. slow, stagnant.
1, 2. cheerful. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2016.
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Examples from the Web for sullenness
Historical Examples
  • For there was no anger or sullenness in Ray's grief; he was just and simply sorry.

  • We had confidence in Cypher's sullenness and smouldering ferocity.

    The Four Million

    O. Henry
  • His brother, goaded out of his sullenness, turned upon him with a tirade of profane abuse, leaving the boy shamed and silent.

    Tom Slade on a Transport Percy Keese Fitzhugh
  • Theodora bent her head and cast down her eyes, not in sullenness, but in sorrow.

    Heartsease Charlotte M. Yonge
  • "With you," he made answer, and something of sullenness had by this time crept into his voice.

    Mavericks William MacLeod Raine
  • sullenness arises from capricious displeasure not founded in reason.

    The Young Man's Guide William A. Alcott
  • Then turning to me—You can bear the imputation of sullenness I see!

    Clarissa, Volume 1 (of 9) Samuel Richardson
  • Morty fell back on sullenness, and bade him manage it his own way.

    The Wild Geese Stanley John Weyman
  • Despite Clarence's sullenness, Warwick had discovered no reason, as yet, to doubt his good faith.

    The Last Of The Barons, Complete Edward Bulwer-Lytton
  • As for her fits of sullenness and irritation, he had been initiated into their mystery on his wedding-day.

    The Combined Maze May Sinclair
British Dictionary definitions for sullenness


unwilling to talk or be sociable; sulky; morose
sombre; gloomy: a sullen day
(literary) sluggish; slow: a sullen stream
(obsolete) threatening
(pl) (archaic) a sullen mood
Derived Forms
sullenly, adverb
sullenness, noun
Word Origin
C16: perhaps from Anglo-French solain (unattested), ultimately related to Latin sōlus alone
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 sullenness



1570s, alteration of Middle English soleyn "unique, singular," from Anglo-French *solein, formed on the pattern of Old French soltain, from Old French soul "single" (see sole (n.2)). The sense shift in Middle English from "solitary" to "morose" occurred late 14c.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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