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  • (UK, US) enPR: rēk, IPA(key): /ɹiːk/
  • (file)
  • Rhymes: -iːk
  • Homophone: reek

Etymology 1[edit]

From Middle English wreken, from Old English wrecan, from Proto-Germanic *wrekaną, from root *wrek-, from Proto-Indo-European *wreg- (work, do).[1] Cognate via Proto-Germanic with Dutch wreken, German rächen, Swedish vräka; cognate via PIE with Latin urgere (English urge), and distantly cognate with English wreck.


wreak (third-person singular simple present wreaks, present participle wreaking, simple past and past participle wreaked or wrought or (rare) wroke)

  1. (transitive) To cause, inflict or let out, especially if causing harm or injury.
    The earthquake wreaked havoc in the city.
    She wreaked her anger on his car.
    • Macaulay
      Now was the time to be avenged on his old enemy, to wreak a grudge of seventeen years.
  2. (archaic) To inflict or take vengeance on.
    • 1874, James Thomson, The City of Dreadful Night
      their woe
      Broods maddening inwardly and scorns to wreak
      Itself abroad;
    • 1856-1885Alfred Tennyson, Gareth and Lynette
      Kill the foul thief, and wreak me for my son.
    • 1917, Edgar Rice Burroughs, A Princess of Mars[1], HTML edition, The Gutenberg Project, published 2008:
      At heart they hate their horrid fates, and so wreak their poor spite on me who stand for everything they have not, …
  3. (archaic) To take vengeance for.
    • Fairfax
      Come wreak his loss, whom bootless ye complain.
  4. (intransitive) Misspelling of reek.
    • 2007, Bruce Morse, Forgive Myself
      She wreaked of liquor. She also wreaked of anger, despair and unsatisfied sexuality, all mixed together.
    This entire article wreaks of desperation to unload the property.
Usage notes[edit]

The verb wreak is generally used in the form “wreak damage or harm of some sort (on something)”, and is often used in the set phrase wreak havoc, though “wreak damage”, “wreak destruction”, and “wreak revenge” are also common.

Not to be confused with wreck, with similar meaning of destruction and similar etymological roots; common confusion in misspelling wreck havoc. Sometimes confused with wrack and rack.

It has become common to use wrought, the original past tense and participle for work, as the past tense and past participle for wreak, as in wrought havoc (i.e. worked havoc for wreaked havoc), due both to the fact that the weak form worked has edged out wrought from its former role almost entirely (except as an adjective referring usually to hand-worked metal goods), and via confusion from the wr- beginning both wreak and wrought, and probably by analogy with seek.

Derived terms[edit]

Etymology 2[edit]

From Middle English wreke, wrake, Northern Middle English variants of wreche, influenced later by Etymology 1, above. Compare Dutch wraak.


wreak (plural wreaks)

  1. (archaic, literary) Revenge; vengeance; furious passion; resentment.
    • 1901, John Payne (translator), The History of King Omar Ben Ennuman and His Sons Sherkan and Zoulmekan, in The Book of the Thousand Nights and One Night, Volume 2:
      Would that before my death I might but see my son The empery in my stead over the people hold
      And rush upon his foes and take on them his wreak, At push of sword and pike, in fury uncontrolled.
    • 1903, George Chapman, Richard Herne Shepherd, Algernon Charles Swinburne, The Works of George Chapman:
      However, no thought touch'd Minerva's mind, That any one should escape his wreak design'd.
    • 2003, John Foxe, John Cumming, Book of Martyrs and the Acts and Monuments of the Church:
      For three causes Duke William entered this land to subdue Harold. One was, for that it was to him given by King Edward his nephew. The second was, to take wreak for the cruel murder of his nephew Alfred, King Edward's brother, and of the Normans, which deed he ascribed chiefly to Harold.
  2. (archaic, literary) Punishment; retribution; payback.
    • 1885, Sir Richard Burton (translator), The Tale of the Three Apples, in The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night, Volume 1:
      Of a surety none murdered the damsel but I; take her wreak on me this moment; for, an thou do not thus, I will require it of thee before Almighty Allah.


  1. ^ wreak” in Douglas Harper, Online Etymology Dictionary, 2001–2018.