Definition of harsh in US English:



  • 1Unpleasantly rough or jarring to the senses.

    ‘drenched in a harsh white neon light’
    ‘harsh guttural shouts’
    • ‘Tanya wrinkled her nose at a strong, harsh whiff of what seemed to be… alcohol?’
    • ‘Songs that whispered and shouted, voices that were harsh and rough or as soft as feathers.’
    • ‘Even though he was bathed in harsh white light, a black wispy shadow, virtually opaque, enveloped Reed completely.’
    • ‘The voice rang throughout the room, harsh and cruel.’
    • ‘The overhead lights were harsh and the walls were impossibly white.’
    • ‘Sunlight tracked a path of sparkling white highlights toward the skyline, a light as harsh as if it were reflecting off burnished metal.’
    • ‘The harsh neon light hanging from the tiled ceiling cast an eerie glow on his face, illuminating his serious features.’
    • ‘He showed no sign of being effected by my harsh look, as he remained his annoying self, humming some tune I was vaguely familiar with.’
    • ‘For starters, we all perform in the gentle, orange glow of candlelight from small glass holders on the floor rather than under the harsh glare of fluorescent light.’
    • ‘There is a small lamp at each place that looks like a microphone and casts a harsh light on the white plates.’
    • ‘His attempt to shout to the last row makes his voice unpleasantly harsh.’
    • ‘UNDER THE harsh glare of fluorescent lights, hundreds of women bend over sewing machines and ironing boards amid piles of brightly coloured cloth.’
    • ‘The walls were painted a serene light yellow, even though the bright white lights lit the room in such a harsh, unforgiving light.’
    • ‘After the gentle, sensuous vowels of Latin-American, this language sounds harsh, cruel, authoritarian.’
    • ‘But the room remained empty, and the light remained harsh and inexorable, and she sat in her bed, her hands clutched tightly together.’
    • ‘His voice was hard and harsh, strict and stern, sad and happy all at the same time.’
    • ‘Talos laughed in mockery, the sound cruel and harsh.’
    • ‘Stainless steel doors, polished white floors gleamed in the harsh white light.’
    • ‘Keeping his eyes on the carpet, the prince spoke, though his voice was not as strong and harsh as it had seemed before.’
    • ‘Unable to even squint at the harsh light, her voice was rough and dry.’
    grating, jarring, grinding, rasping, raspy, strident, raucous, brassy, jangling, metallic, ear-piercing, discordant, dissonant, disagreeable, unharmonious, cacophonous, unmelodious
    glaring, bright, dazzling, brilliant
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  • 2Cruel or severe.

    ‘a time of harsh military discipline’
    • ‘The schools were known for their harsh discipline and for treating students like virtual prisoners.’
    • ‘She wanted to say something that so harsh and cruel that it would make Alex feel worse than he had made her feel.’
    • ‘Life at Artane was harsh and cruel, especially for children with no family connections.’
    • ‘The harsh and cruel elements of Russian society, especially the drive to dominate and control, fill the imagery of Dostoevsky's novels.’
    • ‘Like her friends would ever worry about her, they always seemed to be off in their own worlds, never really knowing that there is a cruel and harsh world waiting for them.’
    • ‘Dr Woonton says some critics of the old superannuation scheme had suggested that it should be completely wiped out, but this would not only be harsh and cruel, but would be against the law.’
    • ‘They were strict, cruel, harsh and made you feel guilty very easily.’
    • ‘So harsh was the discipline that it was known as the Bullring by soldiers.’
    • ‘The authoritarian military regime has been harsh in its treatment of ethnic minorities and rules by decree, without a constitution or legislature.’
    • ‘Home to her were the harsh, cruel streets in a city too preoccupied to care.’
    • ‘Thus ended peacefully seventeen years of harsh military rule within the legal framework erected by the dictatorship.’
    • ‘Even through his harsh cruel manner of treating servants and others alike, he was smart, erudite, but also wise.’
    • ‘As far as he was concerned, it was society that was cruel, harsh and utterly ruthless to children who were alone and orphaned.’
    • ‘He said he did not know the reason for the duty change, but referred to his recent disclosure of graft within Kostrad and his harsh criticism of the military.’
    • ‘The measures taken have been pretty severe, if not harsh.’
    • ‘The harsh discipline of the free market was offered by conservatives as more than just a path toward greater prosperity.’
    • ‘Despite the fact that nature has been harsh and cruel to Afghanistan it has been generous in bestowing bounties of sorts.’
    • ‘Les Choristes takes place in the Fond de l' étang boarding school, where rowdy problem kids only know strict discipline and harsh punishment.’
    • ‘After Guinea became an independent nation in 1958, a harsh military government took power.’
    • ‘Robbins's disciplinarianism won him a reputation as a harsh and cruel taskmaster.’
    cruel, severe, savage, barbarous, despotic, dictatorial, tyrannical, tyrannous, ruthless, merciless, pitiless, relentless, unrelenting, hard, strict, intolerant, illiberal
    severe, stringent, firm, austere, punitive, draconian, stiff, cruel, brutal, hard, stern, rigid, rigorous, grim, uncompromising, inflexible
    austere, grim, spartan, hard, rough, severe, comfortless, inhospitable, stark
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    1. 2.1 (of a climate or conditions) difficult to survive in; hostile.
      ‘the harsh environment of the desert’
      • ‘It can withstand weeds, insects and a harsh climate, thereby producing blossoms one after another.’
      • ‘Scientists think there is an outside chance of microbes similar to those which exist in very harsh conditions on Earth surviving on Mars.’
      • ‘He said it is remarkable that someone so far north has managed to live so long, under harsh climate conditions and a lesser health-care system.’
      • ‘They remained isolated for 800 years, and developed a lifestyle which enabled them to survive in the harsh conditions.’
      • ‘The spores can survive for years in harsh conditions, only becoming active when entering a body.’
      • ‘The Chinese character refers to a kind of plant that can survive in harsh conditions and it also sounds the same as ‘difficult’ in Chinese.’
      • ‘Bulbs have evolved to survive in harsh climates, to withstand winter cold, or summer drought, or both.’
      • ‘Another famous mountain stage is the climb of the Mont Ventoux, often claimed to be the hardest climb in the Tour due to the harsh conditions there.’
      • ‘The biological agent is a microbe that survives only in the harsh conditions of the Atacama.’
      • ‘February is a short shivering thing, March harsh and cruel, but you can bear March because you know what's coming soon enough.’
      • ‘Bison know how to survive these harsh conditions, and the people who live in these places have proved equally adaptable.’
      • ‘The band of friends, family, enemies and strangers must work together against the cruel weather and harsh terrain if they want to stay alive.’
      • ‘Due to the harsh climate and difficulty of life in the tundra, hospitality and generosity are highly prized among the Chukchi.’
      • ‘They are used to invoke a historical community that survived harsh conditions and now enjoys the benefits of unity and prosperity.’
      • ‘He said the goats were crossbred with the local ones which produced mostly twins and could survive harsh conditions.’
      • ‘The ability to survive such harsh conditions is remarkable but one particular graveyard in the hills suggests that people were small and there were many deaths in childhood.’
      • ‘Nigeria's harsh climate and even harsher diseases cut short their initial missionary work.’
      • ‘But it has also been linked to a fiery temper, which may have helped give redheads the aggression they needed to survive in the harsh northern climates.’
      • ‘It has proven to be fully adaptable to its habitat, well-suited to survive in harsh climates with their tough hide and wily brain.’
      • ‘The wolves have been adapted so not only can they survive the harsh climate, but they can also eat both animals and vegetables.’
      hard, severe, cold, bitter, bitterly cold, bleak, freezing, icy, icy-cold, arctic, polar, siberian, glacial, extreme, nasty
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    2. 2.2 (of reality or a fact) grim and unpalatable.
      ‘the harsh realities of the world news’
      • ‘With its skittle shape and pinkish-tan skin, it's seasonal and decorative, putting you in the mood for dark nights and Halloween before the harsh reality of winter kicks in.’
      • ‘That's fine, but the harsh reality is that even if, God forbid, a child is killed or seriously injured, it will not make a blind bit of difference in the long term.’
      • ‘The ewes and cows are friends as well as income and although the harsh reality of farm life teaches you not to be too sentimental about your animals, you can't help but become attached to them.’
      • ‘There's nothing like leaving familiar surroundings and then returning for helping you to cope with this harsh fact of reality: no one is indispensable.’
      • ‘The stark contrast of the nice little pocket book with this harsh reality prevents the reader from becoming totally overwhelmed by how gruesome our reality is.’
      • ‘Looking back over the six years Lee can still remember a significant personal high point in those first twelve months - away from the harsh realities of publishing.’
      • ‘On this occasion it is his aides who are getting a lesson in the harsh realities of the medium is the message.’
      • ‘He offers sensible advice and protects the younger men from the harsh realities of the grim fate that lies ahead.’
      • ‘These facts are issued with a cool precision that belies the harsh reality for the people who have actually been told to pack their bags and leave the building.’
      • ‘It boils down to economics in the end and the harsh reality is that our evolving economy offers greater opportunities than ever before to bright young people whether they are born on the land or not.’
      • ‘His loss was all the more lamentable when that second leg ended scoreless and Ireland were left to ponder the harsh fact that a goal from Robbie Keane would have clinched a qualifying spot.’
      • ‘But child labour is still a harsh reality in a few organised industries and almost in all unorganised informal industries in the developing countries.’
      • ‘They already witnessed and live the suffering of an oppressed people under the harsh realities of a capitalist system.’
      • ‘As graphic as that is, that's the harsh reality in that courtroom.’
      • ‘The harsh reality is that so many farmers now are living on ‘borrowed time’ and mortgages, and that a good harvest is definitively the only way to survive from one year to the next.’
      • ‘As far as students are concerned, it is a harsh reality that for the last two years, summer vacation have lasted not more than twenty to thirty days, thanks to vacation classes.’
      • ‘Lastly, I think the harsh reality of working to daily, weekly or even monthly deadlines sometimes drains the glamour out of publishing for journalists.’
      • ‘It may seem like a harsh reality check, but in fact Keats was right - truth really is beautiful - and that is why people should be scientists.’
      • ‘He credits his spell in prison with awakening him to the harsh realities of crime - so he became determined to earn his millions as a music star.’
      • ‘We cannot escape the harsh reality that as long as the quality of education is neglected and schools uncared for, it will be impossible to raise the morals of the country.’
      blunt, bald, bare, simple, straightforward, basic, plain, unadorned, unembellished, unvarnished, grim
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    3. 2.3 Having an undesirably strong effect.
      ‘she finds soap too harsh and drying’
      • ‘Others feel borak, and other forms of alcohol, may have a harsh effect on their stomachs, and find that their tendency to fall straight off to sleep after half a glass is a bit inconvenient.’
      • ‘Prednisone isn't supposed to be used for long periods of time because of its harsh side effects.’
      • ‘The Andean sun bears down, harsh and strong, in stark contrast to a chilly wind blowing from the mountain.’
      • ‘Beyster claims SAIC's diversity insulates it from the harsh effects of a struggling economy.’
      • ‘Once I stopped trying to fight my oily skin with harsh soaps and drying alcohol-based products, it changed for the better.’
      • ‘His face, shadowed by the flickering torches, was harsh and strong while he exchanged words with the Majdi around him.’
      • ‘The new, mixed-use One Raffles Link in Singapore has a west facade designed to mitigate the effects of the harsh tropical sun.’
      • ‘Evaporation is faster (and accompanied by a slower loss of strength) in a dry cellar, resulting in an undesirably harsh style of brandy.’
      • ‘Shrinking economic opportunity has particularly harsh effects on newcomers like immigrants and the young.’
      • ‘Its mutely inscrutable facade of bald concrete shields the house from the effects of the harsh south sun and deflects prying eyes.’
      • ‘The side effects were harsh, and Crystal had to begin homebound school because she was too ill to be in a classroom.’
      • ‘Firstly try putting a piece of nylon stocking over the flash and you will take away the harsh effects of flash - especially close up.’
      • ‘The chemotherapy and radiation therapy that a child undergoes has many harsh side effects.’
      • ‘Although road salt is a welcome icy-weather remedy to motorists, trees along the roadsides don't appreciate its harsh effects.’
      • ‘Sometimes I can feel the pool emptying, drying up under a harsh sun.’
      • ‘This shift will have a harsh effect on workers, particularly at the lower levels of organizations.’
      • ‘But from outside, the effect is of a harsh brick monolith, as the high, yellowish wall blends with acres of dull roof tiles.’
      • ‘Examination of the strongly-lit side reveals a harsh, unwelcome surface that is cold, rough and unforgiving.’
      • ‘Bran shifted uncomfortably under the harsh stares, strong team that he was.’
      • ‘Despite various crusades having paid off in cushioning the harsh effects of HIV / AIDS, much still needs to be done.’
      abrasive, strong, caustic
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Middle English: from Middle Low German harsch ‘rough’, literally ‘hairy’, from haer ‘hair’.