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Alternative forms[edit]


From Middle English tyraunt, tiraunt, tyrant, tyrante, from Old French tyrant, from the addition of a terminal -t to tiran (cp. French tyran) via a back-formation related to the development of French present participles out of the Latin -ans form, from Latin tyrannus (despot), from Ancient Greek τύραννος (túrannos, usurper, monarch, despot),[1] of uncertain origin.



tyrant (plural tyrants)

  1. (historical, Ancient Greece) A usurper; one who gains power and rules extralegally, distinguished from kings elevated by election or succession.
    • c. 1591–1592 (date written), William Shakespeare, “The Third Part of Henry the Sixt, []”, in Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies [] (First Folio), London: [] Isaac Iaggard, and Ed[ward] Blount, published 1623, →OCLC, [Act III, scene iii], line 71:
      To proue him Tyrant, this reason may suffice, That Henry liueth still.
    • 1980, Michel Austin et al., Economic and Social History of Ancient Greece, section 142:
      The reappearance of tyranny [in the 4th century BC] had many reasons... one of the main causes was the development of antagonism between rich and poor; tyrants came to power exploiting a social and political imbalance within the state.
    • 1996, Roger Boesche, Theories of Tyranny, from Plato to Arendt, section 4:
      Ancient Greek tyrannies appeared once more in great numbers with the breakdown of the polis in the period from the fourth to the second centuries [BC]. These later tyrannies tended to rely on a more narrow class base and to use a brutal military rule, and thus writers could use the words tyrant and tyranny, with their modern connotations of evil and cruelty, to describe them accurately.
  2. (obsolete) Any monarch or governor.
    • 1737, William Whiston translating Josephus, History of the Jewish Wars, I xii §2:
      Cassius... set tyrants over all Syria.
  3. A despot; a ruler who governs unjustly, cruelly, or harshly.
    • 1587, Philip Sidney and Arthur Golding, A woorke concerning the trewnesse of the christian religion, translating Philippe De Mornay, XII 196:
      Tyrannes...be but Gods scourges which he will cast into the fyre when he hath done with them.
    • 1599 (first performance), William Shakespeare, “The Tragedie of Iulius Cæsar”, in Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies [] (First Folio), London: [] Isaac Iaggard, and Ed[ward] Blount, published 1623, →OCLC, [Act V, scene iv], line 5:
      I am the Sonne of Marcus Cato, hoe.
      A Foe to Tyrants, and my Countries Friend.
    • 1744, Alexander Shiels [i.e., Alexander Shields], “Period VI. Containing the Testimony through the Continued Tract of the Present Deformation, from the Year 1660 to this Day.”, in A Hind Let Loose: Or, An Historical Representation of the Testimonies of the Church of Scotland, for the Interest of Christ; with the True State thereof in All Its Periods: [...], Edinburgh: Reprinted by R. Drummond and Company, and sold by William Gray bookbinder in the Grassmarket, and several others, &c., →OCLC, pages 167–168:
      Here is a Proclamation for a Prince: that proclaims him in whoſe name it is emitted [James II of England], to be the greateſt Tyrant that ever lived in the world, and their Revolt who have diſowned him to be the juſteſt that ever was.
    • 1888, James Bryce, The American Commonweath, I iv 42:
      They [viz., the Framers of the American Constitution] held England to be the freest and best-governed country in the world, but were resolved to avoid the weak points which had enabled King George III. to play the tyrant, and which rendered English liberty, as they thought, far inferior to that which the constitutions of their own States secured.
  4. (by extension) Any person who abuses the power of position or office to treat others unjustly, cruelly, or harshly.
    • 1610–1611 (date written), William Shakespeare, “The Tempest”, in Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies [] (First Folio), London: [] Isaac Iaggard, and Ed[ward] Blount, published 1623, →OCLC, [Act II, scene ii], line 161:
      A plague vpon the Tyrant that I serue
    • 1817, Mary Mitford in Alfred L'Estrange, The life of Mary Russell Mitford (1870), II i 2
      [] a sad tyrant, as my friends the Democrats sometimes are.
  5. (by extension) A villain; a person or thing who uses strength or violence to treat others unjustly, cruelly, or harshly.
  6. The tyrant birds, members of the family Tyrannidae, which often fight or drive off other birds which approach their nests.
    • 1731, Mark Catesby, The natural history of Carolina, Florida, and the Bahama Islands, I 55:
      The Tyrant... The courage of this little Bird is singular.
    • c. 1841, Swainson, Penny Cyclopaedia, XXI 415 2:
      The lesser tyrants (Tyrannulae) are spread over the whole of America, where they represent the true flycatcher... The tyrants are bold and quarrelsome birds, particularly during the season of incubation.
    • 1895, Alfred Newton, A Dictionary of Birds:
      Tyrant or Tyrant-bird, Catesby applied it solely to...the King-bird..., but apparently as much in reference to its bright crown...as to its tyrannical behaviour to other birds.


Derived terms[edit]

Related terms[edit]


  • Welsh: teirant


The translations below need to be checked and inserted above into the appropriate translation tables. See instructions at Wiktionary:Entry layout § Translations.



  1. (uncommon) Tyrannical, tyrannous; like, characteristic of, or in the manner of a tyrant.
    • c. 1530, John Rastell, Pastyme of People:
      He was most tirant & cruell of all emperours.
    • c. 1598–1600 (date written), William Shakespeare, “As You Like It”, in Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies [] (First Folio), London: [] Isaac Iaggard, and Ed[ward] Blount, published 1623, →OCLC, [Act I, scene ii], line 278:
      Thus must I from the smoake into the smother,
      From tyrant Duke, vnto a tyrant Brother.
    • 1775, Abigail Adams, letter in Familiar Letters of John Adams and his wife Abigail Adams, during the Revolution (1876), 124:
      ...a reconciliation between our no longer parent state, but tyrant state, and these colonies.


tyrant (third-person singular simple present tyrants, present participle tyranting, simple past and past participle tyranted)

  1. (intransitive, obsolete) To act like a tyrant; to be tyrannical.
    • a. 1661, Thomas Fuller, Of Fancy:
      Let thy judgment be king, but not tyrant over it
  2. (transitive, obsolete) To tyrannize.


  1. ^ tyrant, n.”, in OED Online Paid subscription required, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, launched 2000.

Further reading[edit]


Middle English[edit]



  1. Alternative form of tyraunt