100 Beautiful and Ugly Words

By Mark Nichol

background image 268

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.

Want to improve your English in five minutes a day? Get a subscription and start receiving our writing tips and exercises daily!

Keep learning! Browse the Vocabulary category, check our popular posts, or choose a related post below:


205 Responses to “100 Beautiful and Ugly Words”

  • Dr. Airborne

    I agree that crepuscular is ugly. I would suggest that its synonym, vespertine, falls into the beautiful category.

    Consider: “She was a vespertine beauty, the evening star of the social scene; but her twin brother was a crepuscular curmudgeon, a sunken, sulking sociopath.”

    Since when did The Economist espouse parsimony in word choice? It was there that I learned the lovely word fissiparous.

  • DuncanM

    I hate the word ‘pamper’ – for its modern hotel-market-speak connotations of hedonism. I also dislike wordsmith; what’s wrong with ‘writer’?

  • Ruminant

    I’m probably in the minority, but the words “smoothie” and “yummy” make me cringe. They’re too gooey or babyish or something.

  • LizzieW

    My favourite word and mantra which always calms me down is ‘silver’.

  • Kair

    Subaqueous is a nice word….

  • Helene

    All words have their own beauty and wonder for me. Even ‘ugly’ words like “slaughter”, “placenta”, “visceral”, and “despondent” make me shiver with joy when I hear them, just because they have such strong meaning. I guess everything is beautiful that way. We just have to change our perspective.

  • Mary

    I think the most beautiful word is “lily.” (Many other flower words are quite beautiful: daffodil, azalea, verbena, chamomile, wisteria, myrtle, to name a few.)

  • Phil

    Crepuscular rays are the “fingers of God.” Rays of light seeming to come from one source. As such – I like “fingers of God” better…

    I was talking to my wife the other day & used the word “amelioration” (properly) in a sentence. We stopped and looked at each other and agreed, “…wow, that’s a cool word!”

    I like the word …ellipsis…

  • Elena

    A word that makes me cringe is “snack.” I especially abhor “a tasty little snack.” Sends shivers down my spine.

    In addition to “cellar door” purportedly being a beautiful combination of words there is “summer afternoon,” which, not only sounds lovely, but conjures up an image of peaceful perfection in spite of the possibility that it could instead be something straight from hell.

  • valeen

    thanks for this post, will help us a lot

  • Toni

    I think the words I dislike most are due to the spelling and the overall appearance of them, though they also sound wrong to me:
    Worst
    Among
    Amongst
    conundrum
    slept

    My favorites:
    lackadaisical
    crinkle
    squiggle
    labrador
    philanthropy

  • Audrey

    I actually like the word cynical. It just sort of flows of my tongue.
    Cataclysm also has a nice ring to it. It just sounds like a powerful word. Maybe I just enjoy hearing bords that begin with “C.”

  • Jo

    I think flaccid is an ugly word, but it makes me laugh!

  • Lizzie

    Words and their affect (effect?) on us are strange indeed. Two lovely words stay with me from reading Gail Godwin’s book ‘Father Melancholy’s Daughter’ – ‘rinse’ and ‘jug’. I guess it is just the mood I was in at the time.
    A horrible word that fascinates me is ‘Bucolic’. When I heard it first, I thought it was some sort of animal disease. Twenty years later, I am still battling to come to terms with it as a description of rural utopia…

  • Jay

    Funny… I hate the word moist…

  • Jasmine

    How could you all forget ‘vomit’? I hate that word so much, it’s horrible.

  • Jahnee

    I like the word mizzle-it’s used to describe the (usual) weather here in the Pacific Northwest. Mist + drizzle.

    I HATE the word sip. OM asks “Can I have a sip?” but actually means “I’m going to drink nearly all of your pop but I figured I’d ask first”. So I really dislike that particular word :\

  • Emily

    @Rob Hoey: I want you to know that “tintinnabulation” is my favorite word. No one I know even is aware of it’s existence, and I think that’s sad because the word is so gorgeous. It definitely is a vivid word, too, no? My mother introduced me to it. She and her friends used to see who could spell it the quickest. I learned it from a young age and became a pro at spelling it. Absolutely beautiful word.

    Also, beautiful list! I would also like to include the word “undulate”. I don’t know if it’s a beautiful or ugly word – personally, I think it can be both. However, it means to move in a wave-like matter. I think when spoken, the word “undulate” definitely undulates from my mouth. It conjures pictures of waves crashing into a rock, or blue, sheer fabric rippling in the wind. Lovely word.

  • Tarra

    Beautiful words:
    gingerly
    immarcesible (unable to be erased or forgotten)
    corridor
    chandelier
    honeydew
    fragile
    fluorescent
    luminescent
    lucidity
    sheer

    Ugly yords:
    oeillarde (to ogle at a glance)
    arugula
    vapid
    toe (I’m not a huge fan of ‘oe’ together)
    gaping
    trigger

  • MJ

    I got to the “Ugly words” list and upon seeing “Cacophony” I immediately thought of how much I love that word. I’ve also always loved the sound of “visceral.” As for the beautiful words, I find many of them displeasing. Halcyon, diffuse, and incandescent in particular. (Not to mention Felicity is the name of my best friend so I would never use it in writing anyway.) It really is all about personal taste.

  • Lillian

    I like the sound of these words:

    pristine;
    crest;
    saxophone;
    epiphany;
    wisteria;
    arrogant (the word itself is arrogant);
    euphoria;
    purr;
    kaleidoscope;
    aurora (it cascades gloriously from my lips, radiant and red!);
    idyll;
    dastardly (what the hell, the word’s powerful!);
    serpent (another strong word);
    terrain;
    espionage (it has this French/Latino ring);
    commemoration;
    mint (so minty!);
    ethereal;
    bovine;
    lily (enhanced by the fact that it’s my name);
    evince;
    dell (a small valley with trees growing in or around it); and now that I think about it, the words,
    “valley” and “tree”. They are all so poetic.

    I don’t like the sound of words:
    lugubrious (I find it unwieldy);
    termagant;
    avuncular;
    nasal;
    plosive;
    claustrophobia (isn’t it hideous?);
    raunchy;
    concotion;
    benevolent (never mind it’s meaning);
    ululalate (?!); curmudgeon; and
    caustic.

  • Shane

    Words that I love include:
    ubiquitous
    esoteric
    empyrean
    numinous
    essence
    beatific
    amythist
    supernal
    aesthetic
    celestial
    alluring
    pulchritude (not the greatest sounding but, oh, that meaning…)
    purple passages (such a beautiful term)

  • Shane

    Dear Editor/Moderator:

    I mispelled amethyst. Please replace it with the following entry:

    “amethyst (amethystine is lovely too)”

    Thank you,
    Shane McGlothlen

  • Sandy

    Perspicacious and obsequious have always been my favourite words, as well as eschew. They’re a lot of fun to say.

  • David T

    Irenic is a beautiful (and peaceful) word. What can be uglier than “blastoma”?

  • Ryn

    I love the words ‘snout’ and ‘pumpkin’ for the way they sound on the tongue. Beautiful. Particularly snout, but maybe it’s just the way I say it personally.
    But I’ve always found the word ‘feral’ to be strangely beautiful along with ‘retribution’. The word ‘shattered’ is also a favourite.

    I really dislike ‘moist’ and ‘vein’ for no reason in particular. I did once know someone who hated the word ‘pod’ for the sharp plosive sound at the beginning coupled with the ‘d’.

    Just thinking about favourite words… I’ve never found the word ‘Angel’ to be particularly beautiful enough to do an Angel justice.

  • Ryn

    Oh, and I love the word ‘sleek’ for the very way it describes itself.

  • CallumFisher

    My favourite’s ‘sisyphean’. My spell check doesn’t know it, but I’m pretty sure that’s how it’s spelt. It relates to the Sisyphus of greek mythology and is used an adjective to describe an endless, unyielding labour. I think it just rolls off the tongue.

  • aamir

    actually i want to know those beautiful and powerful words when anyone listen he should be impresed but the words which are placed in this website are brilliant,enormous and aspeceious

  • Rob

    I agree that the meaning of the word has an influence on how ‘beautiful’ we think it to be. Personally, I like the word autumn, not only by its appearance and sound, but also the images it stirs. On the other hand, ‘disease’ seems very off-putting.

  • Chuck Barnard

    Ugly words tend to be guttural with plosives and often Anglo-Saxon or Celtic roots–probably a reflection of the periods in English history when the rulers were and spoke mostly French.

    Most of our ‘swear words’ come form these roots–the same term, translated into French or Latin based words is often acceptable in places the A-S words aren’t.

  • Bob

    Personally I’ve often found the beauty of a word directly proportional to the accuracy and easy with which it describes its meaning.

    “Visceral” certainly describes an ugly situation, but I’ve always admired it for the ease with which it let me conjure an image.

    Likewise with “Grotesque” – the very word illustrates its meaning, especially the q, which feels rather pompous and, well, grotesque amidst all the simpler words around it.

  • Dammy

    Its amazing the feelings words can conjur in the minds of those who love to play with them.
    Some words that gives me the tingles;

    Wistful

    Serene(dipity)

    Swirl

    Mystery

    Kiss

    Platinum

    Mesmerize

    Lyrical

    Sombre

    Drama

    Fantasy…..
    There are ugly sounding words that do turn your mind topsy-turvy,but they still come in handy when the pen is ready to flow.

  • Ashley

    A teacher of mine described what he felt was the “ugliest word in the English language.” And, even after searching through your list and a number of comments, I have to agree.

    “Twig” is horrendous. It’s just a small stick but it combines two very prominent sounds of distaste. First is the ‘twi-‘. If you say it, it’s almost as though you are huffing out of anger. There isn’t a nice way to say it. Then, there is the hard ‘g’ at the end. I can feel the bored slack in my face saying it! Especially since it comes out as ‘guh’.

    Blegh!

  • Chris

    @Kathy:

    Incidentally, The Elysian Fields, in French, is Champs-Élysées.
    Apologies if you already knew that, but most people have heard of it but don’t know what it means.

    Chris

  • Smilecuzurfkncrazy

    You forgot MOIST!

  • AnWulf

    @Bob … I’m of the same mind with you … It hinges on the how and when the word is used.

    There are many words that I like but most folks wouldn’t know them since they aren’t French, Greek, or a Latinate.

    karandash … just a fun word to say (Russian for pencil)
    huru … another fun word … (Old English – especially, certainly, at least, at all events, at any rate, in any case, however, even, yet, only, indeed,)

    infaru – invasion OE
    intinga – matter, material OE
    thole is a good one instead of endure (in the wordbook)
    guthfloga – guþfloga, guðfloga, – one that flies to battle (Beowulf)
    rodor – sky, heavens OE
    hador – bright, clear, serene OE
    thracu – fury OE
    cacophony … yes, I like it and I have used it. Greek
    gainsay … oppose, contradict, deny, disagree with (in the wordbook)
    tungol – planet OE
    glam – message, loud talk, din, loud chattering (in the wordbook)

    Words that I don’t like: most four-syllable Latinates! And that is likely about half your list.

  • Cocomonica

    i just love the word ‘archipelago’ – so beautiful.
    also: correlation,
    incognito,
    effervescent,
    collaboration

  • Lynne Caskey

    My four teenage nieces hate the sound of the words, hematoma and cord blood. Just hearing these words make them cringe. Really, so funny!

  • Keli

    Eh, I like brussel sprouts. 😀

    I like the word Catalyst, but I don’t know if it fits under either. I’d put it under beautiful.

  • Cynthia

    I honestly think that all words have their certain beauty to it, but some words do sound pretty ugly. I personally love the word evening, just because of the way it looks and sounds.

  • RR

    @Cocomonica:

    I love the word Coco.

    Other beautiful words (to me):
    silk
    hearth
    resonate
    breath
    fair
    phantom
    gem

    Ugly Words: fester and canker

    I’m thinking too much about the meaning probably.

  • RR

    I meant: cocoa.

  • hz

    The words ‘puss’ or ‘belch’. I actually feel a little sick when I hear them said.

  • hz

    I love nosferatu. Negative connotations but it sounds so lovely.

  • Carl

    One of the ugliest words I can think of, (and used by third rate journalists all the time), is the word “upcoming”. Where did this hideous word come from, and why is preferred over the established “forthcoming”?Is it a word like “hassle” (originally a black American word meaning a drug bust) which will gradually die out? Here’s hoping….

  • AF

    Cataclysm must be my favorite word… It inspires some sort of disturbance. It’s not ugly.

  • claire griggs

    A word i really enjoy- cupola

    Pronounced- (coo-poh-la)

  • Evie

    I like the word halcyon. (It would appear the drug manufacturers also like the word, but they spell it ‘halcion.’)

    For some odd reason, I also like the word diesel.

    I think the most wonderfully descriptive word in the English language is ‘turd.’ Whoever thought of that one was right on the money!

    For anyone who has the misfortune to be buried near a sewage disposal plant, the term ‘interred’ takes on a whole new meaning. (That’s my joke for the day…groan!)

  • Colby

    From the top of my head, I’m especially fond of contumax, potentate and amarinthine. Grovel, sycophant and hauty exude a sense of disgust.

    “Contumax” gives defiance maximum appeal. “Potentate” brings out the potency and power of a ruler while reminding me of the simple nourishment of a baked potato. Amarinthine simply sounds eternally pleasant and fragrant.

    “Grovel” sounds fittingly like gravel, from whence a groveler stretches. “Sycophant” sounds to much like suck, and plays into its meaning well, yet disturbingly. To say “hauty,” you must position your mouth so that you actually look it.

Leave a comment: