adjective, cru·el·er, cru·el·est.

willfully or knowingly causing pain or distress to others.
enjoying the pain or distress of others: the cruel spectators of the gladiatorial contests.
causing or marked by great pain or distress: a cruel remark; a cruel affliction.
rigid; stern; strict; unrelentingly severe.

Origin of cruel

1175–1225; Middle English < Anglo-French, Old French < Latin crūdēlis, equivalent to crūd(us) (see crude) + -ēlis adj. suffix
Related formscru·el·ly, adverbcru·el·ness, nounun·cru·el, adjectiveun·cru·el·ly, adverbun·cru·el·ness, noun

Synonyms for cruel

Synonym study

1. Cruel, pitiless, ruthless, brutal, savage imply readiness to cause pain to others. Cruel implies willingness to cause pain, and indifference to suffering: a cruel stepfather. Pitiless adds the idea of refusal to show compassion: pitiless to captives. Ruthless implies cruelty and unscrupulousness, letting nothing stand in one's way: ruthless greed. Brutal implies cruelty that takes the form of physical violence: a brutal master. Savage suggests fierceness and brutality: savage battles.

Antonyms for cruel Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for cruel

Contemporary Examples of cruel

Historical Examples of cruel

  • They were kind-hearted and rarely did anything that was cruel.

    Ancient Man

    Hendrik Willem van Loon

  • Supposing—— It was cruel to excite and upset her just for that; it made the pain worse.

  • The contrasts were so cruel that they scorched the eyes of the soul.

  • Those who bring them on us seem captious, thoughtless, cruel.

  • "He is cruel, and the very incarnation of selfishness," he said.

    Weighed and Wanting

    George MacDonald

British Dictionary definitions for cruel



causing or inflicting pain without pitya cruel teacher
causing pain or sufferinga cruel accident
Derived Formscruelly, adverbcruelness, noun

Word Origin for cruel

C13: from Old French, from Latin crūdēlis, from crūdus raw, bloody
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 cruel

early 13c., from Old French cruel (12c.), earlier crudel, from Latin crudelis "rude, unfeeling; cruel, hard-hearted," related to crudus "rough, raw, bloody" (see crude). Related: Cruelly.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper