[ verb uh-byooz; noun uh-byoos ]
/ verb əˈbyuz; noun əˈbyus /
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See synonyms for: abuse / abused / abusing / abuser on Thesaurus.com

verb (used with object), a·bused, a·bus·ing.
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Idioms about abuse

    abuse oneself, to masturbate.

Origin of abuse

1400–50; (v.) late Middle English abusen<Middle French abuser, verbal derivative of abus<Latin abūsus misuse, wasting, equivalent to abūt(ī) to use up, misuse (ab-ab- + ūtī to use) + -tus suffix of v. action; (noun) late Middle English abus<Middle French abus or Latin abūsus

synonym study for abuse

7. Abuse, censure, invective all mean strongly expressed disapproval. Abuse implies an outburst of harsh and scathing words against another (often one who is defenseless): abuse directed against an opponent. Censure implies blame, adverse criticism, or hostile condemnation: severe censure of acts showing bad judgment. Invective applies to strong but formal denunciation in speech or print, often in the public interest: invective against graft.


Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023


What does abuse mean?

Warning: This article involves discussion of the sensitive topics of physical and emotional abuse and substance abuse. If you or someone you know needs support, please visit the National Domestic Violence Hotline site to chat or call the hotline at 1-800-799-7233. For support with substance abuse, call the National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357.

The verb abuse most commonly means to mistreat and cause harm to a person or an animal.

The noun abuse refers to such mistreatment. The victim of the abuse or the kind of abuse is often specified before the word, as in child abuse, spousal abuse, animal abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse, and sexual abuse.

A person who abuses someone can be called an abuser, and such a person is said to be abusive.

Abuse can also be used as a verb meaning to misuse something or as a noun meaning misuse—referring to the overuse or improper use of things. This sense of the word is especially seen in the phrases alcohol abuse, drug abuse, substance abuse, and abuse of power.

As a verb, abuse is pronounced uh-BYOOZ. As a noun, it’s pronounced uh-BYOOS. This same pronunciation pattern is seen in the verb and noun forms of the word use (which rhyme with the verb and noun forms of abuse, respectively).

Example: Just because it’s not physical doesn’t mean it’s not abuse—emotional abuse can leave its own scars.​

Where does abuse come from?

The first records of the word abuse come from the 1400s. It comes from the Latin abūsus, from the Latin verb abūtī, meaning “to misuse.” The prefix ab- means “outside of” or “opposite to.”

We often think of abuse as a repeated behavior, and it often is, but even a single instance of mistreatment qualifies as abuse. Unfortunately, abuse can happen in many forms, and those forms are often specified along with the word.

When abuse is used to refer to misuse of something (as opposed to the mistreatment of someone), it’s often associated with seriously negative behavior, like alcohol abuse (which refers to the overconsumption of alcohol, often due to addiction). However, both the noun and verb can be applied to less serious situations, as in My kids abuse their shoes so much that I have to buy them a new pair every few months.

When the plural abuses is used, it often has a slightly different meaning. When we talk about the abuses of a government or organization, we typically use the word to mean “corrupt or improper practices.”

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What are some other forms related to abuse?

  • abuser (noun)
  • abused (adjective, noun)
  • abusive (adjective)

What are some synonyms for abuse?

What are some words that share a root or word element with abuse


What are some words that often get used in discussing abuse?

How is abuse used in real life?

Abuse is always used negatively, and discussions about abuse are usually very serious.



How to use abuse in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for abuse


verb (əˈbjuːz) (tr)
noun (əˈbjuːs)

Derived forms of abuse

abuser, noun

Word Origin for abuse

c14 (vb): via Old French from Latin abūsus, past participle of abūtī to misuse, from ab- 1 + ūtī to use
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