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  1. showing irritation or ill humor by a gloomy silence or reserve.
  2. persistently and silently ill-humored; morose.
  3. indicative of gloomy ill humor.
  4. gloomy or dismal, as weather or a sound.
  5. sluggish, as a stream.
  6. Obsolete. malignant, as planets or influences.
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Origin of sullen

1565–75; earlier solein, Middle English < ?
Related formssul·len·ly, adverbsul·len·ness, nounun·sul·len, adjectiveun·sul·len·ly, adverb


See more synonyms for on Thesaurus.com
1. See cross. 1, 2. See glum. 2. sulky, moody, sour, bad-tempered. 4. cheerless, clouded, overcast, somber, mournful, dark. 5. slow, stagnant.


1, 2. cheerful.
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

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Examples from the Web for sullen

Contemporary Examples

Historical Examples

  • After the first outburst a sullen anger took possession of the race-goers.


    W. A. Fraser

  • But the sullen boy only muttered that she was wise a little too late.

    The Paradise of Children

    Nathaniel Hawthorne

  • Are you mistress of the petulant, the peevish, and the sullen tone?

  • "Pray do not be foolish, Proserpina," said he, in rather a sullen tone.

    Tanglewood Tales

    Nathaniel Hawthorne

  • Again there was the obvious double meaning in his sullen tone.

    In the Valley

    Harold Frederic

British Dictionary definitions for sullen


  1. unwilling to talk or be sociable; sulky; morose
  2. sombre; gloomya sullen day
  3. literary sluggish; slowa sullen stream
  4. obsolete threatening
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  1. (plural) archaic a sullen mood
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Derived Formssullenly, adverbsullenness, noun

Word Origin

C16: perhaps from Anglo-French solain (unattested), ultimately related to Latin sōlus alone
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 sullen


1570s, alteration of Middle English soleyn "unique, singular," from Anglo-French *solein, formed on the pattern of Old French soltain, from Old French soul "single" (see sole (n.2)). The sense shift in Middle English from "solitary" to "morose" occurred late 14c.

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Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper