Definition of sullen in US English:



  • 1Bad-tempered and sulky; gloomy.

    ‘a sullen pout’
    • ‘But prepare for the inevitable crash of emotions as the money is spent and the glow fades and you end up gloomy and sullen.’
    • ‘At best you will achieve a sullen and resentful compliance.’
    • ‘Mounting the pulpit they appealed for calm and secured a sullen silence.’
    • ‘The Dutch of the 19th century were portrayed as gloomy and sullen preachers and educators.’
    • ‘There's a sullen, and increasingly angry mood on the issue.’
    • ‘Bolton itself also belied any clichéd image of drab northern towns under sullen skies.’
    • ‘Boscaini manages to say this entirely convincingly under a sullen, grey sky in Dublin.’
    • ‘Or do you picture them caked in mud, bodies swarming with lice, marching in sullen silence?’
    • ‘Those who should ask questions either do not bother to show up, knowing they will not be called, or sit in sullen silence.’
    • ‘Soon enough, though, I'd had enough of walking, the sky grew more and more sullen, and the temperature dropped.’
    • ‘It squats at the bottom of the pail like a sullen garden toad, refusing to budge.’
    • ‘This hope was dashed when she walked into the dining room to find him still sullen and sulky.’
    • ‘Anthony Hopkins goes from sullen silence to wordy sermonising as an unhinged anthropologist in this heavy-handed drama.’
    • ‘Outside the fine rain had abated, leaving it its wake a sullen spring sky of pencil grey.’
    • ‘I shrink into myself and become sullen and uncommunicative.’
    • ‘If I do that, it will make him sullen and resentful and unmotivated to control his desire to hit when he is angry.’
    • ‘He leans back and crosses his hands over his chest, a sullen expression on his lean, sculpted face.’
    • ‘A couple of tourists are sitting in a brasserie on the Boulevard-St-Germain and their waiter is sullen, slow and brings the wrong order.’
    • ‘After she declined a proposal to have dinner with him he returned to his more sullen and sulky ways.’
    • ‘She's childish, sullen, moody and volatile, prone to outbursts of jealousy, weeping, rage and laughter.’
    surly, sulky, pouting, sour, morose, resentful, glum, moody, gloomy, joyless, frowning, glowering, grumpy, touchy, peevish, indignant, embittered
    View synonyms
    1. 1.1 (of the sky) full of dark clouds.
      ‘a sullen sunless sky’


the sullens
  • A sulky or depressed mood.

    • ‘When I mentioned this, he lapsed back into the sullens.’
    • ‘He led her into a respectable inn and ordered a dinner to charm her out of the sullens.’


Middle English (in the senses ‘solitary, averse to company’, and ‘unusual’): from Anglo-Norman French sulein, from sol ‘sole’.