Firm and unyielding in discipline or character; strict; severe; unsparing.


US English

UK English

Part of speech



Rigid, harsh, strict, unyielding, uncompromising, unsparing


Lenient, soft, kind, tender, gentle, merciful

Example sentences

  • The headmaster was known for his stern demeanor and strict punishments.
  • The judge handed down a stern sentence to the criminal.
  • The coach’s stern instructions were what the team needed to win the game.


The word “stern” is most often used to describe someone or something that is strict, severe, or unyielding. It is used to describe people who are firm in their discipline or principles, and who do not easily yield to leniency or compassion. In a negative sense, “stern” can also describe a person who is excessively harsh, rigid, or unapproachable. In the case of objects or structures, “stern” can describe something that is unyielding, unbending, or unresponsive to change. The word is often used in the context of law, justice, education, and sports, where strictness, discipline, and unyieldingness are valued. However, it’s worth noting that while “stern” can have a negative connotation, it can also be used in a positive sense to describe someone who is strong-willed, resolute, and disciplined