Definition of cruel in English:



  • 1Wilfully causing pain or suffering to others, or feeling no concern about it:

    ‘people who are cruel to animals’
    ‘a cruel remark’
    • ‘Some evil, cruel person made a video of it and showed us the next day.’
    • ‘It shocked me that I had been so cruel to her in the beginning and that I was never helpful or nice to her.’
    • ‘I may sound cruel and uncaring by saying this but where should charity start and end?’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘But there was more to the crime than the wickedness of two cruel women.’
    • ‘But I could understand his lifelong hatred of a nun who had been cruel to him at school.’
    • ‘She still felt guilty about how she had been deliberately cruel to him.’
    • ‘That isn't to say she's a cruel or uncaring mother, just that she's busy.’
    • ‘While a relationship is breaking down, people can be unspeakably cruel to each other.’
    • ‘I find it sickening and sad that someone could be so wantonly cruel to their pets.’
    • ‘He had been unreasonably cruel to that poor nurse, to all of the nurses in fact!’
    • ‘Although I am never actually intentionally cruel to my parents, there is one little jape I like to have at this time of year.’
    • ‘A I think it's natural in the human spirit to be loving and kind but clearly humans can easily be incited to be evil and cruel.’
    • ‘The cruel act has shocked animal carers in Swindon, who say they are sickened by the deed.’
    • ‘We now know that some families were cruel to children and that many children were abused without anyone stepping in to stop it.’
    • ‘It is telling that his hero is an honest cop, sometimes brutish but never cruel.’
    • ‘History will judge the actions of your government as cruel and barbaric.’
    • ‘Why would he be so cruel to say he loved me then laugh about me behind my back?’
    • ‘But I can't for the life of me, understand why anyone would wish to be cruel to another living creature.’
    brutal, savage, inhuman, barbaric, barbarous, brutish, bloodthirsty, murderous, homicidal, cut-throat, vicious, ferocious, fierce
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    1. 1.1 Causing pain or suffering:
      ‘the winters are long, hard, and cruel’
      • ‘Still, the reality she faces is neither too harsh, nor too cruel.’
      • ‘Not only are punishments cruel, the legal procedures are positively medieval.’
      • ‘What other hideous and cruel things could happen in such a world that she lived in?’
      • ‘He prayed that the war might never be as cruel to them as it had been to him.’
      • ‘Once when he was young and felt that life was too cruel to suffer, he had thought of the freedom of death.’
      • ‘In a peculiar way, sport can be very cruel to those who play it at the highest level.’
      • ‘There is no point whatsoever in our attempting to make the world a less cruel or more livable place.’
      • ‘We can reasonably conclude that this is an inhuman and cruel job that should go the way of child chimney-sweeps.’
      • ‘She finally decided she wanted to join her father and leave the world that had been so cruel to her.’
      • ‘"Football can be cruel at times and the players were disappointed but we'll get over it.’
      • ‘The problem is that people in the West have no clue how cruel the world outside is.’
      • ‘Fate is cruel to the people in the film.’
      • ‘"Fate is sometimes cruel, " she replied, her face in his neck, her voice muffled.’
      • ‘She'd always hated the conventional exercise methods, deeming them unnecessarily cruel.’
      • ‘The fool had hoped that the world was not as cruel a place as he had suspected.’
      • ‘Opponents have been campaigning for a ban for decades and say the practice is appallingly cruel and unnecessary.’
      • ‘I know how cruel this game can be and I never doubted that everyone would give of his best and that is as much as we can expect.’
      • ‘What about the people who decided which inmates were to be subjected to these cruel and inhumane conditions?’
      • ‘The system is very, very cruel and the trick is to not get involved in it.’
      • ‘The western community rose up to protest the cruel and inhumane punishment.’
      harsh, severe, grim, grievous, hard, tough, bitter, harrowing, heartbreaking, heart-rending, distressing, upsetting, traumatic, painful, agonizing, excruciating
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[WITH OBJECT]Australian
  • Spoil or ruin (an opportunity or a chance of success):

    ‘Ernie nearly cruelled the whole thing by laughing’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘The surface of the Oakes Oval strip is notorious for it's uneven bounce and has cruelled many skilled batsmen over the past few seasons.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘He will have to outspend the $200,000 he paid to buy his election last time, after negotiating a dead hand of preference deals which looks to have cruelled his bid for re-election.’
    wreck, ruin, spoil, disrupt, undo, upset, play havoc with, make a mess of, put an end to, end, bring to an end, put a stop to, terminate, prevent, frustrate, blight, crush, quell, quash, dash, scotch, shatter, vitiate, blast, devastate, demolish, sabotage, torpedo
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  • 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’
      • ‘The boardroom view is that firms have to be cruel to be kind.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘It's true what they say, sometimes you do have to be cruel to be kind.’
      • ‘I for one prefer to be cruel to be kind, and never give donations to child beggars as I think they should be home in bed or at school not out on the streets begging.’
      • ‘In the countryside, there are times when you must be cruel to be kind.’
      • ‘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 is being cruel to be kind as they would only end up killing themselves or someone else’.’
      • ‘I find a short sharp shock keeps them in line, you have to be cruel to be kind.’
      • ‘Much as he hated doing it, he had to be cruel to be kind.’
      • ‘I don't want to hurt her, because she doesn't deserve to be hurt, but this is more of a case of 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’
      • ‘He was freed in October, after the Georgia Supreme Court ruled his sentence was cruel and unusual punishment.’
      • ‘Our liberal elite understands when leniency has to end and cruel and unusual punishment must begin.’
      • ‘Excessive bail and fines, and cruel and unusual punishments are forbidden.’
      • ‘They just don't care if someone is wrongly accused, and they could not care less about torture or cruel and unusual punishment.’
      • ‘So the US basic law specifically outlawed "cruel and unusual punishment."’
      • ‘Right to privacy and cruel and unusual punishment issues were also raised.’
      • ‘He was unjustly smeared by FBI leaks and unproven allegations, and subjected to cruel and unusual punishment without a trial.’
      • ‘But next fall, the Court, at least, will decide if executing the mentally retarded is cruel and unusual punishment.’
      • ‘We are supposed to be free from bond being denied us while we await trial and free from 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).