tr.v. a·bused, a·bus·ing, a·bus·es
1. To use improperly or excessively; misuse: abuse alcohol; abuse a privilege.
2. To hurt or injure by maltreatment; ill-use: animals that were abused by a negligent owner.
3. To force sexual activity on; rape or molest.
4. To assail with insulting or hurtful words; revile.
5. Obsolete To deceive or trick.
a. Improper or excessive use; misuse: abuse of authority; drug abuse.
b. Rough treatment or use: shoes that have taken a lot of abuse.
a. Physical maltreatment or violence: spousal abuse.
b. Sexual abuse.
c. Insulting or hurtful language, especially when used to threaten or demoralize: subjected her subordinates to verbal abuse.
3. An unjust or wrongful practice: a government that commits abuses against its citizens.
[Middle English abusen, from Old French abuser, from abus, improper use, from Latin abūsus, past participle of abūtī, to misuse : ab-, away; see AB-1 + ūtī, to use.]
Synonyms: abuse, misuse, mistreat, ill-treat, maltreat
These verbs mean to treat wrongfully or harmfully. Abuse applies to injurious or improper treatment: "We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us" (Aldo Leopold).
Misuse stresses incorrect or unknowledgeable handling: "How often misused words generate misleading thoughts" (Herbert Spencer).
Mistreat, ill-treat, and maltreat all share the sense of inflicting injury, often intentionally: "I had seen many more patients die from being mistreated for consumption than from consumption itself" (Earl of Lytton). "Experienced people ... become suspicious of those who by their own account are invariably ill-treated by the world" (Bertrand Russell). "[The professor was charged with] underpaying, neglecting, or otherwise maltreating his assistants" (David Rains Wallace).
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2018 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Indo-European & Semitic Roots Appendices
Thousands of entries in the dictionary include etymologies that trace their origins back to reconstructed proto-languages. You can obtain more information about these forms in our online appendices:
The Indo-European appendix covers nearly half of the Indo-European roots that have left their mark on English words. A more complete treatment of Indo-European roots and the English words derived from them is available in our Dictionary of Indo-European Roots.