noun (used with a plural verb)

a liquid, often an alcoholic liquor, in which bitter herbs or roots have steeped, used as a flavoring, especially in mixed drinks, or as a tonic.
  1. a liquid, usually alcoholic, impregnated with a bitter medicine, as gentian or quassia, used to increase the appetite or as a tonic.
  2. bitter medicinal substances in general, as quinine.

Origin of bitters

First recorded in 1705–15; bitter + -s3



adjective, bit·ter·er, bit·ter·est.

having a harsh, disagreeably acrid taste, like that of aspirin, quinine, wormwood, or aloes.
producing one of the four basic taste sensations; not sour, sweet, or salt.
hard to bear; grievous; distressful: a bitter sorrow.
causing pain; piercing; stinging: a bitter chill.
characterized by intense antagonism or hostility: bitter hatred.
hard to admit or accept: a bitter lesson.
resentful or cynical: bitter words.


that which is bitter; bitterness: Learn to take the bitter with the sweet.
British. a very dry ale having a strong taste of hops.

verb (used with object)

to make bitter: herbs employed to bitter vermouth.


extremely; very; exceedingly: a bitter cold night.

Origin of bitter

before 1000; Middle English, Old English biter; cognate with German bitter, Old Norse bitr, Gothic baitrs; akin to bite
Related formsbit·ter·ish, adjectivebit·ter·ly, adverbbit·ter·ness, nounnon·bit·ter, adjectiveo·ver·bit·ter, adjectiveo·ver·bit·ter·ly, adverbo·ver·bit·ter·ness, nounun·bit·ter, adjective
Can be confusedbidder bitter

Synonyms for bitter Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for bitters

Contemporary Examples of bitters

Historical Examples of bitters

British Dictionary definitions for bitters


pl n

bitter-tasting spirits of varying alcoholic content flavoured with plant extracts
a similar liquid containing a bitter-tasting substance, used as a tonic to stimulate the appetite or improve digestion



having or denoting an unpalatable harsh taste, as the peel of an orange or coffee dregsCompare sour (def. 1)
showing or caused by strong unrelenting hostility or resentmenthe was still bitter about the divorce
difficult or unpleasant to accept or admita bitter blow
cutting; sarcasticbitter words
bitingly colda bitter night


very; extremely (esp in the phrase bitter cold)


a thing that is bitter
British beer with a high hop content, with a slightly bitter taste


to make or become bitter
See also bitters
Derived Formsbitterly, adverbbitterness, noun

Word Origin for bitter

Old English biter; related to bītan to bite
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

Word Origin and History for bitters

1713, from bitter. So called for its taste.



Old English biter "bitter, sharp, cutting; angry, embittered; cruel," from Proto-Germanic *bitras- (cf. Old Saxon bittar, Old Norse bitr, Dutch bitter, Old High German bittar, German bitter, Gothic baitrs "bitter"), from PIE root *bheid- "to split" (cf. Old English bitan "to bite;" see bite (v.)). Evidently the meaning drifted in prehistoric times from "biting, of pungent taste," to "acrid-tasting." Used figuratively in Old English of states of mind and words. Related: Bitterly.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

Idioms and Phrases with bitters


In addition to the idioms beginning with bitter

  • bitter end
  • bitter pill to swallow

also see:

  • take the bitter with the sweet
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.