100 Beautiful and Ugly Words

By Mark Nichol

One of the many fascinating features of our language is how often words with pleasant associations are also quite pleasing on the tongue and even to the eye, and how many words, by contrast, acoustically and visually corroborate their disagreeable nature — look no further than the heading for this post.

Enrich the poetry of your prose by applying words that provide precise connotation while also evoking emotional responses. (Note the proportion of beautiful words to ugly ones in the compilation below; it’s easier to conjure the former than the latter, though I omitted words associated with bodily functions, as well as onomatopoeic terms.)

Notice how often attractive words present themselves to define other beautiful ones, and note also how many of them are interrelated, and what kind of sensations, impressions, and emotions they have in common. Also, try enunciating beautiful words as if they were ugly, or vice versa. Are their sounds suggestive of their quality, or does their meaning wholly determine their effect on us?

Beautiful Words

Amorphous: indefinite, shapeless
Beguile: deceive
Caprice: impulse
Cascade: steep waterfall
Cashmere: fine, delicate wool
Chrysalis: protective covering
Cinnamon: an aromatic spice; its soft brown color
Coalesce: unite, or fuse
Crepuscular: dim, or twilit
Crystalline: clear, or sparkling
Desultory: half-hearted, meandering
Diaphanous: gauzy
Dulcet: sweet
Ebullient: enthusiastic
Effervescent: bubbly
Elision: omission
Enchanted: charmed
Encompass: surround
Enrapture: delighted
Ephemeral: fleeting
Epiphany: revelation
Epitome: embodiment of the ideal
Ethereal: celestial, unworldly, immaterial
Etiquette: proper conduct
Evanescent: fleeting
Evocative: suggestive
Exuberant: abundant, unrestrained, outsize
Felicity: happiness, pleasantness
Filament: thread, strand
Halcyon: care-free
Idyllic: contentedly pleasing
Incorporeal: without form
Incandescent: glowing, radiant, brilliant, zealous
Ineffable: indescribable, unspeakable
Inexorable: relentless
Insouciance: nonchalance
Iridescent: luster
Languid: slow, listless
Lassitude: fatigue
Lilt: cheerful or buoyant song or movement
Lithe: flexible, graceful
Lullaby: soothing song
Luminescence: dim chemical or organic light
Mellifluous: smooth, sweet
Mist: cloudy moisture, or similar literal or virtual obstacle
Murmur: soothing sound
Myriad: great number
Nebulous: indistinct
Opulent: ostentatious
Penumbra: shade, shroud, fringe
Plethora: abundance
Quiescent: peaceful
Quintessential: most purely representative or typical
Radiant: glowing
Redolent: aromatic, evocative
Resonant: echoing, evocative
Resplendent: shining
Rhapsodic: intensely emotional
Sapphire: rich, deep bluish purple
Scintilla: trace
Serendipitous: chance
Serene: peaceful
Somnolent: drowsy, sleep inducing
Sonorous: loud, impressive, imposing
Spherical: ball-like, globular
Sublime: exalted, transcendent
Succulent: juicy, tasty, rich
Suffuse: flushed, full
Susurration: whispering
Symphony: harmonious assemblage
Talisman: charm, magical device
Tessellated: checkered in pattern
Tranquility: peacefulness
Vestige: trace
Zenith: highest point

Ugly Words

Cacophony: confused noise
Cataclysm: flood, catastrophe, upheaval
Chafe: irritate, abrade
Coarse: common, crude, rough, harsh
Cynical: distrustful, self-interested
Decrepit: worn-out, run-down
Disgust: aversion, distaste
Grimace: expression of disgust or pain
Grotesque: distorted, bizarre
Harangue: rant
Hirsute: hairy
Hoarse: harsh, grating
Leech: parasite,
Maladroit: clumsy
Mediocre: ordinary, of low quality
Obstreperous: noisy, unruly
Rancid: offensive, smelly
Repugnant: distasteful
Repulsive: disgusting
Shriek: sharp, screeching sound
Shrill: high-pitched sound
Shun: avoid, ostracize
Slaughter: butcher, carnage
Unctuous: smug, ingratiating
Visceral: crude, anatomically graphic

What did I miss? Add to these lists in a comment below.

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198 Responses to “100 Beautiful and Ugly Words”

  • Lilli Connolly

    I think “Slippers” is kind of a nice word. I’m not sure why, it just sounds peaceful.

  • Elizabeth

    I have synaesthesia and, as such, I see words in color.

    Anything with an “au” is a beautiful, deep scarlet: aurora, austere, August, aura, audio, the name Aurelia, etc. These are some of my favorite words.

    I HATE the word “besides” and will go to great lengths to not use it. It’s a sickening, Pepto-like pink.

    “Liar” is a beautiful word.

  • la blitz blatz

    One of my favorite words is ‘marginal, or marginally.’ As in, “this is marginally acceptable.” Or “This candidate has a marginal understanding of what it will be like to be President.”

    I don’t get to use it much, though I used it copiously in high school. Now almost 30 years later, I still love it. Also a favorite: ‘classic.’ Sounds crisp and pleasing.

  • Ansh

    i would like to add a few words to both categories:
    beautiful:
    1. Pulchritude- personally one of my favorites meaning beauty.
    2. Fallal- sounds really attractive. It means ‘a finery’.
    3. Ubiquitous- found everywhere.
    4. Erubescent- a glowing red.
    5. Zephyr- a cold breeze. (my ticket to a good impression on descriptive pieces!)
    ugly:
    1. Dystopian- rather a dark word for bad or hellish.
    2. Contumacious- stubborn.
    3. Hydra- something emanating problems, a chain of problems such that when one is solved another appears.
    4. Quelle horreur- French phrase used to exclaim a feeling of horror.
    5. Soucouyant- a witch known from history.
    Email me and perhaps we can exchange more delightful words. Follow me on instagram: @anshkalani . Thank you! Tell me what you think.

  • Zoe Riggs

    I think we need a list of beautiful words that don’t mean beautiful things. Heres a few I thought of. Sorry if my definitions are off.
    Beautiful words that don’t match their meaning:
    woebegone (sorrowful)
    pusillanimousstar (fearful)
    synthetic (fake)
    plebeian (lower class)
    proletarian (poor)
    reverential (reverant)
    venerational (reverant)
    languishing (sad)
    atrocious (horrible)
    sombre (sullen)
    funereal (depressing)
    austere (cheerless)
    drearisome (sorrowful)
    tenebrific (gloomy)
    saturnine (gloomy)
    morose (pessimistic)
    estrange (alienate)

  • Mike

    Loved the article until you asked.

    What did I miss?
    It’s what have I missed surely.

    And Avuncular always leaves me with a nice warm feeling.

  • Ric Veness

    If ugly equates to annoying then the constant use of “ISSUE”, as a substitute noun for almost every other noun, would have to be high on my list.

  • Precise Edit

    Notice how many three-syllable words are in the beautiful lists? Human brains are respond positively to groups of three, and to a lesser extent to groups of four.

    By contrast, one- and two-syllable words appear often in lists of ugly-sounding words.

    With that said, the word with the most beautiful sound, in my opinion, is “axiom.”

    The ugliest-sounding word, again in my opinion, is “gunk.”

    And the funniest-sounding word, guaranteed to bring on giggles? “Flapdoodle.” (Again, three syllables) And that’s a fact.

  • Sage

    In my opinion, there really aren’t any “ugly” words. I mean, words that seem ugly to one person, may be beautiful to another. Especially after reading all of the comments, I know that not all words are appealing. Some words may be appealing and have an unappealing definition, which will make somebody think that it’s ugly. That’s not completely true. Don’t let somebody tell you that a word is “ugly” just because they happen to think so, that doesn’t mean that you’re different. You like what you like, don’t let anybody’s opinion change yours.

  • Wessel François Smith

    I am a logophile. I love nearly every word.

    I love the word “lilt” and “Breathtaking” in Afrikaans it is “asem rowend” it sounds lovley. One word I struggled with was “Batrachomyomachy” its meaning is a good description of what was happening when I tried pronouncing it. Afrikaans speaking ^^,

    Nemises is a word I love it sounds so romantic if you loast the pass meaning.

    Nemisism not so romantic. I get annoyed with “sm” it’s like “smsmsm”. Joys of afrikaans.

    The word I love the most is “Tranquillity”, it sounds powerful , evil, dark and scary but its meaning is serendipitous.

  • Bonnie

    I’m glad this list is still going! Several people mentioned not caring for the word “moist.” It’s used as a character’s name in at least one Terry Pratchett novel (Going Postal, I think), and a henchman has that name in Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog.

    To me, it goes well with damp – another word that just doesn’t sound right. Too often both words are used to describe the palms of a nervous person.

  • Tigirl

    Malaise: A feeling of general unease or discomfort.
    Personally I find it wonderfully ugly. Conversely, I find ‘malady’ to be a very graceful word for something bad.
    Also, ‘penultimate,’ meaning the one right before the final.

  • Saikrishna Mukkamala

    Ugly Words:
    Hiatus,stampede,Aberrant,Abeyance,Bliss,Abhor

  • Dr. Naquib

    My list of ‘beautiful words’ include—

    synergy, team, serene, holy, sacred, domain, compassion, converge,

  • Alison

    An obscure one, but very evocative and onomatopoeic I think – ‘phantasmagoria’

    Meaning either:

    ‘a shfting series of phantasms, illusions, or deceptive appearances, as in a dream or as created by the imagination’.

    or

    ‘a changing scene made up of many elements’.

  • Milo

    Call me Mr. Simple… We’ve all had three senses (hopefully no more) tell us: nothing is more ugly than diarrhea. And ugly fast, faster than projectile vomit, the fastest ugly in the world, maybe even the universe. Before you can think, blink or turn on the light….You know…

    In a distant second place, “snot,” and not without a way-cool gross factor. A bright yellow snot bolo blow out of one nostril (the other plugged by the man’s stumped arm), spinning like a football kicked for a field goal, and it had the distance.

    Some words that use to be synonymous with beautiful are now ugly and visa-versa. Like California… Sheit fire, done went Godzilla-fugly, and on the other hand, Vietnam… one beautiful country.

    Being Irish, my four most beautiful words are: dogs, fishing, beer and women. And animals groups are pretty cool. A “murder” of crows, a “gaggle” of geese, a “litter” of pups, a “pod” of whales, a “covey” of quail, a “herd” of cows, a “case” of beer (just checking), a “school” of tuna, a “troop” of baboons (as long as you don’t see their red-puffed butts), a “rafter” of turkeys.

    Time to go “sizzle” a couple of New York Strips, sides of “grilled” asparagus and “cheese-toast.” Got to thank my “curvy” red-headed neighbor for taking care of my dog.

  • Beverly Elander

    Sluices. Exhaling air slowly through my teeth and then sliding my tongue to the roof of my mouth, slightly puckering my lips and then again making the air-through-the-teeth maneuver for me actually creates the vision and sound of the slippery movement of shallow water over flat rocks.

  • Scanlon

    Shiver.

    I’ve read up and down the comments and was surprised to not find this word, given that you experience the slightest ghost of the feeling just by reading it. It may just be me personally, but I find this to be an extremely evocative word.

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