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

Related Words for sullenness

acrimony, anger, moroseness, gloominess, moodiness

Examples from the Web for sullenness

Historical Examples of sullenness

  • Then turning to me—You can bear the imputation of sullenness I see!

    Clarissa, Volume 1 (of 9)

    Samuel Richardson

  • The man kept his glance averted, and the cloud of sullenness deepened on his face.


    Rafael Sabatini

  • Morty fell back on sullenness, and bade him manage it his own way.

    The Wild Geese

    Stanley John Weyman

  • Lanty took the money with a mixture of humility and sullenness.

    The O'Donoghue

    Charles James Lever

  • The woman assumes a sullenness, and it is some time before she can be got to proceed.

    An Outcast

    F. Colburn Adams

British Dictionary definitions for sullenness



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 sullenness



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