View synonyms for abuse


[ verb uh-byooz; noun uh-byoos ]

verb (used with object)

, a·bused, a·bus·ing.
  1. to use wrongly or improperly; misuse:

    to abuse one's authority.

    Synonyms: misapply

  2. to treat in a harmful, injurious, or offensive way:

    to abuse a horse; to abuse one's eyesight.

    Synonyms: hurt, harm, injure, maltreat, ill-use

  3. to speak insultingly, harshly, and unjustly to or about; revile; malign.

    Synonyms: scold, berate, vituperate, vilify, traduce, calumniate, defame, slander

    Antonyms: praise

  4. to commit sexual assault upon.
  5. Obsolete. to deceive or mislead.


  1. wrong or improper use; misuse:

    the abuse of privileges.

    Synonyms: misapplication

  2. harshly or coarsely insulting language:

    The officer heaped abuse on his men.

    Synonyms: aspersion, slander

    Antonyms: praise

  3. bad or improper treatment; maltreatment:

    The child was subjected to cruel abuse.

  4. a corrupt or improper practice or custom:

    the abuses of a totalitarian regime.

  5. rape or sexual assault.
  6. Obsolete. deception.



  1. to use incorrectly or improperly; misuse
  2. to maltreat, esp physically or sexually
  3. to speak insultingly or cruelly to; revile
  4. reflexive to masturbate


  1. improper, incorrect, or excessive use; misuse
  2. maltreatment of a person; injury
  3. insulting, contemptuous, or coarse speech
  4. an evil, unjust, or corrupt practice
  5. archaic.
    a deception

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Derived Forms

  • aˈbuser, noun

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Other Words From

  • a·bus·a·ble [uh, -, byoo, -z, uh, -b, uh, l], adjective
  • a·buser noun
  • anti·a·buse adjective
  • over·a·buse noun verb (used with object) overabused overabusing
  • una·busa·ble adjective
  • una·bused adjective

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Word History and Origins

Origin of abuse1

First recorded in 1400–50; (for the noun) late Middle English abus, from Middle French, from Latin abūsus “misuse, waste,” noun use of past participle of abūtī “to use up, misuse,” from ab- ab- + ūtī “to use, employ, enjoy”; use; verb derivative of the noun

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Word History and Origins

Origin of abuse1

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

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Idioms and Phrases

  1. abuse oneself, to masturbate.

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Synonym Study

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.

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Example Sentences

When it paused the service earlier this year, the company said it was investigating reports of abuse, especially from malware groups.

Regular testing can help the department identify officers with substance abuse issues as well.

From Vox

She said the lead agency into the woman’s allegations is now the Justice Department’s Inspector General, which oversees accusations of civil rights abuses.

What I do know from the research that’s out there on abuse and abusers is that there’s a range of, I’d say of levels of denial that they are in … but I haven’t done any interviews.

From Ozy

In 2018, for example, Facebook was slow to act on misinformation spreading in Myanmar that ultimately led to human rights abuses.

These were cops who had worked the protests and suffered the accompanying verbal taunts and abuse.

You get these high-profile people that go into prison, and the staff abuse their authority.

When they get someone high profile, like the governor [Bob McDonnell] or like Teresa, they will abuse their positions.

Perhaps one of the most egregious examples is the abuse of civil asset forfeiture laws.

It needs to be said: bigotry in the name of religion is still bigotry; child abuse wrapped in a Bible verse is still child abuse.

Quaint old Burton in his "Anatomy of Melancholy," recognizes the virtues of the plant while he anathematizes its abuse.

He shan't marry me without your consent, so don't be angry and abuse us all; for which you will be sorry an hour hence.

Notwithstanding, they bear with much patience a great deal of abuse from unkind masters.

This abuse, as the years went on, instead of diminishing grew in strength if not in grace.

On the other hand directors are not permitted to abuse their power; they must act in good faith.


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About This Word

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.”

Did you know ... ?

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.



Definitions and idiom definitions from Unabridged, based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023

Idioms from The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.




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