extremely disturbing or distressing; grievous: a harrowing experience.

Origin of harrowing

First recorded in 1800–10; harrow1 + -ing2
Related formshar·row·ing·ly, adverb

Synonyms for harrowing




an agricultural implement with spikelike teeth or upright disks, drawn chiefly over plowed land to level it, break up clods, root up weeds, etc.

verb (used with object)

to draw a harrow over (land).
to disturb keenly or painfully; distress the mind, feelings, etc., of.

verb (used without object)

to become broken up by harrowing, as soil.

Origin of harrow

1250–1300; Middle English harwe; akin to Old Norse herfi harrow, Dutch hark rake, Greek krṓpion sickle
Related formshar·row·er, noun



verb (used with object) Archaic.

to ravish; violate; despoil.
(of Christ) to descend into (hell) to free the righteous held captive.

Origin of harrow

before 1000; Middle English harwen, herwen, Old English hergian to harry
Related formshar·row·ment, noun
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for harrowing

Contemporary Examples of harrowing

Historical Examples of harrowing

  • This experience was harrowing, but it prepared his mind for the seeds of wisdom.

    The Forest

    Stewart Edward White

  • So ended that chapter in the harrowing history of Murray Davenport.

    The Mystery of Murray Davenport

    Robert Neilson Stephens

  • The scene was harrowing, and only two of its incidents are material to this history.

    A Son of Hagar

    Sir Hall Caine

  • The Irish farmer is with the poet, who hits his harrowing anguish to a hair.

    Ireland as It Is

    Robert John Buckley (AKA R.J.B.)

  • We will not dwell upon the harrowing events of the next few days.

    The Masked Bridal

    Mrs. Georgie Sheldon

British Dictionary definitions for harrowing




any of various implements used to level the ground, stir the soil, break up clods, destroy weeds, etc, in soil


(tr) to draw a harrow over (land)
(intr) (of soil) to become broken up through harrowing
(tr) to distress; vex
Derived Formsharrower, nounharrowing, adjective, noun

Word Origin for harrow

C13: of Scandinavian origin; compare Danish harv, Swedish harf; related to Middle Dutch harke rake



verb (tr) archaic

to plunder or ravish
(of Christ) to descend into (hell) to rescue righteous souls
Derived Formsharrowment, noun

Word Origin for harrow

C13: variant of Old English hergian to harry



a borough of NW Greater London; site of an English boys' public school founded in 1571 at Harrow-on-the-Hill, a part of this borough. Pop: 210 700 (2003 est). Area: 51 sq km (20 sq miles)
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 harrowing

"extremely distressing, painful," 1799 (implied in harrowingly), from present participle of harrow (v.).



agricultural implement, heavy wooden rake, c.1300, haru, from Old English *hearwa, apparently related to Old Norse harfr "harrow," and perhaps connected with Old English hærfest "harvest" (see harvest). Or possibly from hergian (see harry).



"to drag a harrow over," especially in harrowing of Hell in Christian theology, early 14c., from hergian (see harry). In the figurative sense of "to wound the feelings, distress greatly" it is first attested c.1600 in Shakespeare. Related: Harrowed; harrowing.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper