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cruel Line breaks: cruel
Pronunciation: /krʊəl/

Definition of cruel in English:

adjective (crueller, cruellest; US crueler, cruelest)

1Wilfully causing pain or suffering to others, or feeling no concern about it: people who are cruel to animals a cruel remark
More example sentences
  • After the death, staff at the home became intolerably cruel to her and made her life a living hell.
  • I basically told her to get out of my life because she was being so unfair and cruel to me.
  • She still felt guilty about how she had been deliberately cruel to him.
brutal, savage, inhuman, barbaric, barbarous, brutish, bloodthirsty, murderous, homicidal, cut-throat, vicious, ferocious, fierce;
wicked, evil, fiendish, devilish, diabolical, heinous, abominable, monstrous, atrocious, vile, hideous, ghastly, nasty, spiteful, mean;
callous, sadistic, ruthless, merciless, unmerciful, pitiless, unsparing, unrelenting, remorseless, uncaring, unsympathetic, uncharitable, heartless, stony-hearted, hard-hearted, cold-hearted, cold-blooded, bloodless, unfeeling, unemotional, unkind, inhumane, severe, harsh, stern, inclement, flinty, draconian
British informal beastly
archaic dastardly, sanguinary
1.1Causing pain or suffering: the winters are long, hard, and cruel
More example sentences
  • What about the people who decided which inmates were to be subjected to these cruel and inhumane conditions?
  • The western community rose up to protest the cruel and inhumane punishment.
  • What other hideous and cruel things could happen in such a world that she lived in?

verb (cruels, cruelling, cruelled)

[with object] Australian informal Back to top  
Spoil or ruin (an opportunity or a chance of success): Ernie nearly cruelled the whole thing by laughing
[ Late 19th century: perhaps influenced by the idiom queer someone's pitch (see queer)]
More example sentences
  • He was a fresh, dynamic face on the political scene who travelled like a winner, before cruelling his chances with the finishing line in sight?
  • Its strategy meant that it was prepared to betray that core principle for perceived political advantage, thus cruelling the chances of some of our most vulnerable children.
  • This 30 year old is being tipped to go places - if we haven't completely cruelled her chances by giving her a name check in Crikey.


be cruel to be kind
Act towards someone in a way which seems harsh but will ultimately be of benefit to them: George did not like being firm with Lennie but he knew that he had to be cruel to be kind
More example sentences
  • It is being cruel to be kind as they would only end up killing themselves or someone else’.
  • I'm just so glad he's home and I have to be cruel to be kind because I can't bear to go through that again.
  • It's a time-honoured cliché, but in this case it just happens to be true: sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind.
cruel and unusual punishment
A category of excessively severe punishment banned under the Eighth Amendment of the US Constitution (and originally under the English Bill of Rights): this is an important case that confronts the issue of what constitutes cruel and unusual punishment
More example sentences
  • He was freed in October, after the Georgia Supreme Court ruled his sentence was cruel and unusual punishment.
  • They just don't care if someone is wrongly accused, and they could not care less about torture or cruel and unusual punishment.
  • They want to stay and control the country and its resources, even if our military is subjected to cruel and unusual punishment.


Middle English: via Old French from Latin crudelis, related to crudus (see crude).

Words that rhyme with cruel

accrual, construal, crewel, dual, duel, fuel, gruel, jewel, newel, renewal, reviewal
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