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’
    • ‘I find it sickening and sad that someone could be so wantonly cruel to their pets.’
    • ‘The cruel act has shocked animal carers in Swindon, who say they are sickened by the deed.’
    • ‘But there was more to the crime than the wickedness of two cruel women.’
    • ‘I may sound cruel and uncaring by saying this but where should charity start and end?’
    • ‘I basically told her to get out of my life because she was being so unfair and cruel to me.’
    • ‘History will judge the actions of your government as cruel and barbaric.’
    • ‘But I could understand his lifelong hatred of a nun who had been cruel to him at school.’
    • ‘It shocked me that I had been so cruel to her in the beginning and that I was never helpful or nice to her.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘That isn't to say she's a cruel or uncaring mother, just that she's busy.’
    • ‘It is telling that his hero is an honest cop, sometimes brutish but never cruel.’
    • ‘He had been unreasonably cruel to that poor nurse, to all of the nurses in fact!’
    • ‘Why would he be so cruel to say he loved me then laugh about me behind my back?’
    • ‘We now know that some families were cruel to children and that many children were abused without anyone stepping in to stop it.’
    • ‘While a relationship is breaking down, people can be unspeakably cruel to each other.’
    • ‘Although I am never actually intentionally cruel to my parents, there is one little jape I like to have at this time of year.’
    • ‘After the death, staff at the home became intolerably cruel to her and made her life a living hell.’
    • ‘But I can't for the life of me, understand why anyone would wish to be cruel to another living creature.’
    • ‘She still felt guilty about how she had been deliberately cruel to him.’
    • ‘Some evil, cruel person made a video of it and showed us the next day.’
    brutal, savage, inhuman, barbaric, barbarous, brutish, bloodthirsty, murderous, homicidal, cut-throat, vicious, ferocious, fierce
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    1. 1.1Causing pain or suffering.
      ‘the winters are long, hard, and cruel’
      • ‘He prayed that the war might never be as cruel to them as it had been to him.’
      • ‘There is no point whatsoever in our attempting to make the world a less cruel or more livable place.’
      • ‘In a peculiar way, sport can be very cruel to those who play it at the highest level.’
      • ‘We can reasonably conclude that this is an inhuman and cruel job that should go the way of child chimney-sweeps.’
      • ‘Fate is cruel to the people in the film.’
      • ‘The western community rose up to protest the cruel and inhumane punishment.’
      • ‘"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.’
      • ‘What about the people who decided which inmates were to be subjected to these cruel and inhumane conditions?’
      • ‘Not only are punishments cruel, the legal procedures are positively medieval.’
      • ‘The problem is that people in the West have no clue how cruel the world outside is.’
      • ‘"Football can be cruel at times and the players were disappointed but we'll get over it.’
      • ‘The system is very, very cruel and the trick is to not get involved in it.’
      • ‘The fool had hoped that the world was not as cruel a place as he had suspected.’
      • ‘Still, the reality she faces is neither too harsh, nor too cruel.’
      • ‘Opponents have been campaigning for a ban for decades and say the practice is appallingly cruel and unnecessary.’
      • ‘Once when he was young and felt that life was too cruel to suffer, he had thought of the freedom of death.’
      • ‘She finally decided she wanted to join her father and leave the world that had been so cruel to her.’
      • ‘What other hideous and cruel things could happen in such a world that she lived in?’
      • ‘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.’
      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’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘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’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘The boardroom view is that firms have to be cruel to be kind.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘It's true what they say, sometimes you do have to be cruel to be kind.’
      • ‘In the countryside, there are times when you must 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.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘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.’
  • 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’
      • ‘Excessive bail and fines, and cruel and unusual punishments are forbidden.’
      • ‘But next fall, the Court, at least, will decide if executing the mentally retarded is cruel and unusual punishment.’
      • ‘So the US basic law specifically outlawed "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.’
      • ‘He was unjustly smeared by FBI leaks and unproven allegations, and subjected to cruel and unusual punishment without a trial.’
      • ‘They want to stay and control the country and its resources, even if our military is subjected to cruel and unusual punishment.’
      • ‘Our liberal elite understands when leniency has to end and cruel and unusual punishment must begin.’
      • ‘Right to privacy and cruel and unusual punishment issues were also raised.’
      • ‘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.’


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