Definition of cruel in English:

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Pronunciation: /krʊəl/

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?
harsh, severe, grim, grievous, hard, tough, bitter, harrowing, heartbreaking, heart-rending, distressing, upsetting, traumatic, painful, agonizing, excruciating
rare distressful

verb (cruels, cruelling, cruelled)

[with object] Australian informal
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

For editors and proofreaders

Line breaks: cruel

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