The Meaning of Sultry: What It Is and How To Use It

This guide will provide you with all of the knowledge you need on the word sultry, including its definition, usage, origin, synonyms, and more!

Your writing, at its best

Compose bold, clear, mistake-free, writing with Grammarly's AI-powered writing assistant

What does the word sultry mean?

According to Merriam-Webster, word sultry, pronounced “ˈsʌltrɪ”, has two different meanings. The first is often used to describe weather or things, in which sultry can mean hot and humid, burning in temperature, oppressive heat or sweltering heat. Sultry can also be used to describe people. In this context, the word sultry means hot with passion – or sometimes anger –  or exciting, often sexually. 

The word sultry is an adjective. According to English Club, an adjective is a type of word that serves to modify or describe a noun or pronoun. In this case, sultry is used to describe weather, temperature, or people. Adjectives often come before the noun. For example, one can say “a sultry summer” or “a sultry look” but people in English would not say “a summer sultry” or “a look sultry.” In other languages, the order of adjectives and nouns reverses. Variations on the word sultry include the adverb “sultrily” and the noun “sultriness.” Both of these variations use suffixes to movify the base word sultry into an adverb or noun. More variations with the same base as sultry include sultrier and sultriest.

What is the etymology of the word sultry?

According to Etymonline, the word sultry has been used since the 1590s to describe something that is oppressively hot, close, or moist. The word sultry was likely a contraction of the word “sweltry,” which is an archaic adjective form of the word “swelter.” It could also be from the obsolete verb sulter, which meant “to swelter” and was used in the 1580s. Sulter and swelter were often used interchangeable. The word was used in a figurative sense to mean sexy, lusty, or excited from 1704. Its usage to mean sensual is attested from the 1940s.

What are synonyms and antonyms for the word sultry?

Since the word sultry has two different meanings, the word will have two different sets of synonyms and antonyms. Synonyms are words that mean the same thing as a given word, while antonyms are words that mean the opposite. The first definition of sultry is hot and humid. Below are a list of synonyms that also mean hot and humid, from Thesaurus.

  • hot
  • suffocating
  • sweltry
  • muggy
  • Soggy
  • oppressive
  • red-hot
  • torrid
  • saking
  • scorching
  • sticky
  • smothering
  • stuffy
  • broiling
  • burning
  • close
  • stifling
  • sweltering
  • sizzling
  • mucky
  • wet

There are also numerous words that mean the opposite of sultry when it comes to weather. These words might describe cool or cold weather, and this list of words is also from Thesaurus.

  • frigid
  • refrigerated
  • snappy
  • three-dog night
  • chilly
  • freezing
  • frosty
  • chill
  • cool
  • frost-bound
  • frozen
  • glacial
  • ice-cold
  • icy
  • gelid
  • hyperboreal
  • icebox
  • wintry
  • Siberian
  • antarctic
  • arctic

The word sultry also has numerous different words that share its second meaning, which is sexy, exciting or sensual. These are often used to describe people, looks, or clothing. These synonyms are also listed below, from Thesaurus.

  • erotic
  • heavy
  • lurid
  • sensuous
  • sensual
  • sexy
  • steamy
  • voluptuous
  • X-rated
  • desirable
  • hot
  • seductive
  • passionate
  • provocative
  • vixenish

There are also a plethora of different words one can use to describe someone or something that is unsexy or unappealing. These would be antonyms to the word sultry using its second definition. These are listed below, also from Thesaurus.

  • unattractive
  • revolting
  • unalluring
  • unsightly
  • hideous
  • homely
  • horrid
  • bad-looking
  • beastly
  • deformed
  • monstrous
  • not much to look at
  • plain
  • repelling
  • disgusting
  • repugnant
  • repulsive
  • unappealing
  • disfigured
  • frightful
  • gross
  • grotesque
  • ugly

How can the word sultry be spoken in other languages?

The word sultry is not only present in English, but in other languages too! Below are a list of different examples of the way sultry can be said in other languages. These translations are provided by Google Translate.

  • Abafado/abafada, opressivo/opressiva, mormacento/mormacenta – Portuguese
  • Bochornoso/bochornosa, sofocante, apasionado/apasionada – Spanish
  • Étouffant/étouffante, loud, sensuel, chaud, suffocant, passionné – French
  • Schwül, temperamentvoll, heißblütig – German
  • Boğucu – Turkish
  • Afoso/afosa, soffocante, appassionato/appassionata, focoso/focosa – Italian
  • Qayiz/قائظ – Arabic
  • Lummer, fugtig, trykkende – Danish

How can sultry be used in a sentence?

The word sultry has two different definitions, and therefore has two different potential use cases. The first is when someone is describing a hot day. In this example, Niko and Madalyn are going on a picnic. They open the door to their house.

Niko: Oh my word, this sultry heat!

Madalyn: I know. I didn’t expect it to be such a sultry day with all this cloud cover!

Niko: I expected a thunderstorm before I expected this humidity. Do you still want to go on the picnic?

Madalyn: Of course! Let me just change out of this sweater.

Here, Madalyn and Niko use the word sultry to describe the unexpected weather. In this next example, Madalyn and Niko have just been to see a movie that was much more mature than either of them expected.

Niko: That movie was… sultry to say the least.

Madalyn: I know. I mean, when they say rated R I expect a curse or some brief nudity here or there, but it feels like that movie was bordering on x-rated. I feel like I need to take a cold shower.

Niko: Me too!

Here, Madalyn and Niko use the word sultry to describe the explicit film.

Overall, the word sultry has two different definitions depending on the context. In the context of weather, sultry can mean hot and humid, or burning in temperature. In the context of people, sultry means having sexual desire, exciting, or hot with passion and sometimes anger.