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[sturn] /stɜrn/
adjective, sterner, sternest.
firm, strict, or uncompromising:
stern discipline.
hard, harsh, or severe:
a stern reprimand.
rigorous or austere; of an unpleasantly serious character:
stern times.
grim or forbidding in aspect:
a stern face.
Origin of stern1
before 1000; Middle English; Old English styrne
Related forms
sternly, adverb
sternness, noun
1, 2. adamant, unrelenting, unsympathetic, cruel, unfeeling. Stern, severe, harsh agree in referring to methods, aspects, manners, or facial expressions. Stern implies uncompromising, inflexible firmness, and sometimes a hard, forbidding, or withdrawn aspect or nature: a stern parent. Severe implies strictness, lack of sympathy, and a tendency to impose a hard discipline on others: a severe judge. Harsh suggests a great severity and roughness, and cruel, unfeeling treatment of others: a harsh critic.
1. lenient. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the Web for sternness
Historical Examples
  • Awed by his power and his sternness, the parents yielded her to his will.

  • The sternness of age and the austerity of censoriousness are now silent.

    Imogen William Godwin
  • Just then, up came my father, with a sternness in his looks that made me tremble.

    Clarissa, Volume 1 (of 9) Samuel Richardson
  • As they rested upon her some of the sternness seemed to fade from their glance.

    The Trampling of the Lilies Rafael Sabatini
  • His Lie still, you rascal, or Ill make you, voiced in its sternness an even deeper sentiment than he had for Zaidee.

    The Wayfarers Mary Stewart Cutting
  • "That remains to be seen," Colonel John replied, a note of sternness in his voice.

    The Wild Geese Stanley John Weyman
  • There was a sternness in her grandmother's voice and face which startled the girl.

    That Unfortunate Marriage, Vol. 2(of 3) Frances Eleanor Trollope
  • Afterward this sternness seemed criminal; for my mind was made up.

    The Shadow-Line Joseph Conrad
  • This little relaxation of sternness had a good effect upon the queen.

  • It had dreaminess in it, intense attention, and something like sternness.

    Victory Joseph Conrad
British Dictionary definitions for sternness


showing uncompromising or inflexible resolve; firm, strict, or authoritarian
lacking leniency or clemency; harsh or severe
relentless; unyielding: the stern demands of parenthood
having an austere or forbidding appearance or nature
Derived Forms
sternly, adverb
sternness, noun
Word Origin
Old English styrne; related to Old High German stornēn to alarm, Latin sternāx stubborn, Greek stereos hard


the rear or after part of a vessel, opposite the bow or stem
the rear part of any object
the tail of certain breeds of dog, such as the foxhound or beagle
relating to or located at the stern
Word Origin
C13: from Old Norse stjōrn steering; see steer1


Isaac. 1920–2001, US concert violinist, born in (what is now) Ukraine
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for sternness



Old English styrne "severe, strict," from Proto-Germanic *sternijaz (cf. Middle High German sterre, German starr "stiff," störrig "obstinate;" Gothic andstaurran "to be stiff;" Old Norse stara; Old English starian "to look or gaze upon"), from PIE root *ster-, *star- "be rigid" (see sterile).


c.1300, "hind part of a ship, steering gear of a ship," probably from Old Norse stjorn "a steering," related to styra "to guide" (see steer (v.)). Or the word may come from Old Frisian stiarne "rudder," which is also related to steer (v.).

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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Idioms and Phrases with sternness
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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