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

Word Forms

Part of Speech Words
Noun stern, sterns, sternness, sternnesses
Verb None
Adjective stern
Adverb sternly

Example Sentences

  • The stern teacher stood at the front of the classroom, demanding discipline and respect from her students.

  • With a stern expression on his face, the coach delivered a firm lecture to the team about the importance of discipline and hard work.

  • The judge’s stern voice echoed through the courtroom as she handed down a severe sentence to the convicted criminal.

  • Despite his gentle demeanor, the father had a stern side that emerged when his children misbehaved, making it clear that he expected obedience and good behavior.


The word “stern” originated from the Old English word “stierne,” which means “severe” or “strict.” It has its roots in the Germanic language and shares etymological connections with other Germanic languages like German and Dutch.

In its literal sense, “stern” refers to the rear part of a ship or boat. This nautical usage evolved to symbolize the commanding and authoritative position of the captain or helmsman who stands at the stern, steering and guiding the vessel. Over time, the word’s meaning expanded to describe someone who is firm, strict, or uncompromising in their demeanor or behavior.

The prefix “un-” can be added to “stern” to create the word “unstern,” which conveys the opposite meaning, suggesting a lack of severity or strictness. Suffixes like “-ness” and “-ly” can be added to form “sterness” and “sternly,” respectively, to describe the quality or manner of being stern.

The word “stern” is often used to describe individuals who exhibit a serious, no-nonsense attitude, or who are firm and uncompromising in their expectations or judgments. It can also describe a harsh or severe facial expression, tone of voice, or overall demeanor. In a broader sense, “stern” can be used to describe any situation or environment that is strict, unyielding, or lacking in warmth and friendliness.

While “stern” typically carries a negative connotation, implying a lack of leniency or compassion, it is also associated with strength, discipline, and authority. It is commonly used to describe authoritative figures such as parents, teachers, coaches, or leaders who maintain high standards and enforce rules and regulations. However, it is important to note that being stern does not necessarily imply cruelty or unkindness, but rather a strong sense of discipline and a commitment to upholding standards and expectations. It can also be used in a positive sense to describe someone who is strong-willed, resolute, and disciplined.