Definition of ordeal in English:


Line breaks: or¦deal
Pronunciation: /ɔːˈdiːəl


1A very unpleasant and prolonged experience: the ordeal of having to give evidence
More example sentences
  • No one experienced the ordeal of those first few years more acutely than his first wife, Linda.
  • As a consequence he forced the families through the ordeal of the trial.
  • As if the ordeal of a trial were not bad enough, he and Dolores must now face an arguably worse fate.
painful/unpleasant experience, trial, tribulation, test, nightmare, trauma, baptism of fire, hell, hell on earth, misery, trouble, difficulty, torture, torment, agony
2 historical An ancient test of guilt or innocence by subjection of the accused to severe pain, survival of which was taken as divine proof of innocence: ordeals conducted in the twelfth century [mass noun]: ordeal by fire
More example sentences
  • Those presented might then be put to the ordeal to ascertain their guilt or innocence.
  • If he still maintained his innocence, he was able to decide between two ordeals: water or iron.
  • As a result, ordeals were replaced by trials by juries.


Old English ordāl, ordēl, of Germanic origin; related to German urteilen 'give judgement', from a base meaning 'share out'. The word is not found in Middle English (except once in Chaucer's Troilus); modern use of sense 2 began in the late 16th century, whence sense 1 (mid 17th century).

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