Definitions

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • adj. Showing a brooding ill humor or silent resentment; morose or sulky.
  • adj. Gloomy or somber in tone, color, or portent: sullen, gray skies.
  • adj. Sluggish; slow: the sullen current of a canal.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • adj. Having a brooding ill temper; sulky.
  • adj. Dismal; somber.
  • adj. Sluggish; slow.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • adj. Lonely; solitary; desolate.
  • adj. Gloomy; dismal; foreboding.
  • adj. Mischievous; malignant; unpropitious.
  • adj. Gloomily angry and silent; cross; sour; affected with ill humor; morose.
  • adj. Obstinate; intractable.
  • adj. Heavy; dull; sluggish.
  • n. One who is solitary, or lives alone; a hermit.
  • n. Sullen feelings or manners; sulks; moroseness.
  • transitive v. To make sullen or sluggish.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • Being alone; solitary; lonely; hence, single; unmarried.
  • Being but one; unique; hence, rare; remarkable.
  • Remaining alone through ill humor; unsociable; silent and cross; sulky; morose; glum.
  • Gloomy; dismal; somber.
  • Sad; sorrowful; melancholy.
  • Slow-moving; sluggish; dull: as, a sullen pace.
  • Malignant; unpropitious; foreboding ill; baleful.
  • Synonyms Gloomy, Sullen, Sulky, Morose, Splenetic. These words are arranged in the order of their intensity and of their degrees of activity toward others. Gloomy has the figurative suggestion of physical gloom or darkness: the gloomy man has little brightness in his mind, or he sees little light ahead. The sullen man is silent because he is sluggishly angry and somewhat bitter, and he repels friendly advances by silence and a lowering aspect rather than by words. The sulky person persists in being sullen beyond all reason and for mere whim: the young are often sulky. In the morose man there is an element of hate, and he meets advances with rudeness or cruel words: the young have rarely development of character enough to be morose. The splenetic man is sulky and peevish, with frequent outbursts of irritation venting itself upon persons or things. Any of these words may indicate either a temporary mood or a strong tendency of nature.
  • n. A solitary person; a recluse.
  • n. plural Sullen feelings; sulks; sullenness.
  • n. A meal for one person.
  • To make sullen, morose, or sulky.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • adj. showing a brooding ill humor
  • adj. darkened by clouds

Etymologies

Middle English solein, from Anglo-Norman solein, alone, from sol, single, from Latin sōlus, by oneself alone; see s(w)e- in Indo-European roots.
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)
Middle English solein, from Anglo-Norman solein ("alone"), from sole ("single, sole, alone"), from Latin sōlus ("by oneself alone"). The change in meaning from "single" to morose occurred in Middle English. (Wiktionary)

Examples

  • “I am afraid not,” Rysatam replied, his expression sullen.

    A Time to Sow

  • For Nau-hau, in sullen volcanic rage, was ripe to erupt at the slightest opportunity.

    CHAPTER X

  • The problem is, this need for external validaion doesn't lead to changes when it fails to materialize ... rather, it seems to result in sullen ad hominem attacks on critics (witness "freedom fries").

    worse than china?

  • Simon watched all this from a couple of yards away, his expression sullen or possibly jealous.

    Spin

  • Paolo followed her into the room, his expression sullen and inimical.

    The Count's Blackmail Bargain

  • Her expression sullen, Janis whirled around without replying and walked back into the dressing room.

    Buried Alive, The Biography of Janis Joplin

  • During all this work the sealers stood about in sullen groups.

    The Lost Poacher

  • The court people petted their nervous horses, and beside the gallows a black-robed man looked about in sullen restlessness.

    The Golden Apple Tree

  • For Nau - hau, in sullen volcanic rage, was ripe to erupt at the slightest opportunity.

    Chapter 10

  • It was all rock and dense forest, and unpeopled; only wild animals and seabirds sought the shelter it provided from the terrors of the West Wind; but he drove them out in sullen anger, and made on this strip of land his last stand against the Four Men.

    Legends of Vancouver

Comments

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  • A pointed example of usage in the sense of "solitary":

    "In much the same way good sullen reading is rare in a house, unless one is blessed with an impregnable and sound-proof room of one's own: interruptions, restless unnecessary movements, doors opening and closing, apologies, even whisperings, God forbid, and meal-times."

    —Patrick O'Brian, The Yellow Admiral (New York: W. W. Norton, 1996), p. 42.

    July 29, 2012

  • "...Stupid vampires. Stupid dress code. I was Sullen, with a capital S." -Club Dead, by Charlaine Harris

    February 5, 2011

  • "Speaking of college applications, Edward, Charlie said, his tone even more sullen-he tried to avoid addressing Edward directly, and when he had to, it exacerbated his bad mood." Eclipse by Stephenie Meyer page19

    October 4, 2010


  • In my craft or sullen art
    Exercised in the still night
    When only the moon rages
    And the lovers lie abed
    With all their griefs in their arms,
    I labour by singing light
    Not for ambition or bread
    Or the strut and trade of charms
    On the ivory stages
    But for the common wages
    Of their most secret heart.

    - Dylan Thomas, 'In My Craft or Sullen Art'.

    October 12, 2009