showing irritation or ill humor by a gloomy silence or reserve.
persistently and silently ill-humored; morose.
indicative of gloomy ill humor.
gloomy or dismal, as weather or a sound.
sluggish, as a stream.
Obsolete. malignant, as planets or influences.

Origin of sullen

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

Synonyms for sullen

1. See cross. 1, 2. See glum. 2. sulky, moody, sour, bad-tempered. 4. cheerless, clouded, overcast, somber, mournful, dark. 5. slow, stagnant.

Antonyms for sullen

1, 2. cheerful. Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for sullen

Contemporary Examples of sullen

Historical Examples of sullen

  • 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



unwilling to talk or be sociable; sulky; morose
sombre; gloomya sullen day
literary sluggish; slowa sullen stream
obsolete threatening


(plural) archaic a sullen mood
Derived Formssullenly, adverbsullenness, noun

Word Origin for sullen

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.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper