Kind-hearted or ruthless? (Describing character, Part 2)

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by Kate Woodford

With this post, we continue the ‘describing people’ thread, looking at adjectives that we use to describe people’s characters. Today, we focus on a set of near-synonyms for the adjective ‘kind’.

A caring person is kind and always tries to make sure that other people are well and happy: She had a lovely, caring mother. Someone who is generous shows kindness by giving a lot of their money or time to others: It was very generous of her to donate so much money. / He was always very generous with his time.

If you are considerate, you think about other people’s wishes, and not just your own, when you are making decisions: It was very considerate of you to let me know. The adjective compassionate describes someone who cares about others who are suffering and feels sympathy for them: I believe that most people are fundamentally compassionate and hate to inflict pain on animals.

The suffix -hearted appears in three adjectives that describe kind people who show sympathy to others. We may say that someone is kind-hearted, tender-hearted or soft-hearted: My younger son can’t bear to see anyone suffer – he’s so tender-hearted.

Finally for ‘kind’ words, the adjective thoughtful describes a kind person who is always thinking about how they can help or please other people. The adjective sweet is sometimes used in the same way: Rebecca’s so thoughtful. When my mother was ill, she went round with flowers. / It was very sweet of Karl to ask after my father.

Now let’s think about the opposite. The informal adjective mean is sometimes used for ‘unkind’: She can be quite mean to her younger brother. / Don’t be mean, Freddy! In UK English, mean also means ‘not willing to spend money, especially on others.’ The US equivalent is cheap: When it came to buying presents, she could be quite mean. / He was too cheap to buy her a drink.

A person who often says or does unkind things might be described as nasty or unpleasant: He certainly wasn’t a good man. In fact, he was quite nasty. / She was a pretty unpleasant character by all accounts. Even stronger, the adjective cruel suggests that someone enjoys causing pain to others: a cruel dictator / Children can be very cruel to each other. Someone who is ruthless is determined to achieve something and doesn’t care about the pain that it will cause others: He was ruthless in his rise to the top.

Finally, hard-hearted describes a person who is not kind and doesn’t feel sympathy for others: Imagine treating a person like that! How could anyone be so hard-hearted?

The next post in this thread will include words for people who are generally happy and relaxed.


31 thoughts on “Kind-hearted or ruthless? (Describing character, Part 2)

      1. Justyna

        Thank you for this wonderful list of character adjectives! I can imagine this being very useful for English learners. How do I get to part 1?

  1. Denis

    Awesomesauce! 🙂
    Let me make myself useful as well.

    A selfless person is the type of person that cares more for what other people need and want rather than for what he or she themself needs and wants. The adjective self-sacrificing has a similar meaning, although it is a bit stronger in a strict sense because a self-sacrificing person gives up what he or she wants so that other people can have what they want: His courage and self-sacrificing devotion to duty resulted in the loss of his life.
    If someone has a heart of gold, they are very kind and generous, whereas an unkind or cruel individual has a heart of stone.
    Still with negatives, someone who only thinks of their own advantage might be described as selfish, and the adjective indifferent suggests that a person doesn’t care much about other people’s feelings.
    On a positive note, if you kill someone with kindness, you cause discomfort to them by treating them in a way that is extremely kind or helpful: Instead of returning the insult, you might try killing her with kindness.

    By the way, you guys from Cambridge, you’ve got the wrong example sentence for the noun ‘negative’ in your dictionary on this website, and the sentence itself is wrong too. Here is the link to the page with the wrong example: In the American dictionary section of that page, you have the following example sentence for the noun ‘negative’ meaning a word, phrase, or statement that expresses no or not, or that expresses refusal: The governor replied in the affirmative (= The governor said no).
    First of all, if the governor replied in the affirmative, it means that the governor said yes. However, the right example in this case should say: The governor replied in the negative (= The governor said no).

    And then here it says ‘Check your understanding of English words with definitions in your own language using Cambridge’s corpus-informed translation dictionaries and the Password and Global dictionaries from K Dictionaries.’
    What does ‘K’ stand for? Does it mean ‘Cambridge’? Is that another slip?

    1. Hello Denis

      Many thanks for your comments. We will correct the error at ‘negative’ now. You will see the change when we re-release the dictionary data in two weeks’ time.

      The ‘K’ in K Dictionaries stands for Kernerman. They produce some of the bilingual and semi-bilingual dictionaries that we have on our site. You can find more information about K Dictionaries in the Acknowledgements section on their dictionaries’ homepages, for example:

      Best wishes

      1. classicgirlatl

        Hi Dennis,
        Just a thought… I believe when describing a person (or a definition that describes a person, or a particular trait of a person) using the word “𝙒𝙃𝙊” or “𝙒𝙃𝙊𝙈” is preferable to using the word “𝙏𝙃𝘼𝙏.”
        For example, your sentence:
        A selfless person is the type of person 𝙏𝙃𝘼𝙏 cares more for what other people need and want rather than for what he or she themself needs and wants.
        I believe the sentence should read, “A selfless person is the type of person 𝙒𝙃𝙊 cares more for what other people need and want…”
        Please correct me if I’m mistaken.
        Thank You Cambridge Dictionary for offering the public services/assistance such as the Cambridge Dictionary +Plus. I’m so glad to know there is a site dedicated to improving spelling/grammar for those of us who are truly interested.

      2. Denis

        Hi, classicgirlatl.
        First of all, my name is Denis, not Dennis.
        Second, when we talk about things, including definitions and personality traits, we do not use ‘who’ or ‘whom’ as a relative clause. Instead, we use ‘which’ or ‘that’, depending on whether the relative clause is defining or non-defining (for example, we don’t use ‘that’ to introduce a non-defining relative clause). As a matter of fact, we can use ‘whose’ to introduce a relative clause indicating possession not only by people and animals but also by things: This is the book whose title I couldn’t remember.
        Now let’s get down to the crux of the matter you’re raising…
        When we refer to a person, we often use ‘that’ instead of ‘who’ or ‘whom’ in defining relative clauses: He is the person that wants to buy my house.
        Please note that although we can use ‘that’ instead of ‘who’ or ‘whom’ in defining relative clauses, we are not allowed to do so in non-defining relative clauses.
        In my sentence, the description of a selfless person is essential information about this type of person. This information is needed in order to understand what a selfless person is like. Thus, the relative clause in my sentence is defining and cannot be left out, which means that using ‘that’ instead of ‘who’ there is absolutely correct.
        For further information, please follow these links:

        Kind regards

      3. Denis

        Just a small correction to what I’ve said – I meant “…do not use ‘who’ or ‘whom’ as a relative pronoun.”, not “…as a relative clause.”.

      1. Denis

        Howdy, Mary. 🙂
        No problem. From now on you can consider me your friend, but just bear in mind that I do not have enough time to chat since I’m almost always busy.

  2. Denis

    Many thanks for your prompt response. And please don’t get me wrong, folks. It’s not that I’m trying to find fault with you, it’s just me wanting your sources to be better.
    With that in mind, there is one more thing that I’d like you to take into consideration, and this time it has to do with grammar.
    Here you warn your readers by saying:
    ‘We don’t use as with consider:
    We consider this to be a very serious issue.
    Not: We consider this as a very serious issue.’
    On the contrary, here, under the heading ‘Collective nouns (group words)’, you have the following sentence:
    ‘Some collective nouns can take a singular or plural verb, depending on whether they are considered as a single unit or as a collection of individuals:’.
    Why does the rule contradict the sentence? Where is the truth here? According to the rule, the sentence ought to say ‘Some collective nouns can take a singular or plural verb, depending on whether they are considered to be a single unit or a collection of individuals:’, shouldn’t it?

  3. Iris

    I would like to add these:
    warm-hearted, it describes someone who is kind and loving.
    On the contrary, cold-hearted and cold-blooded describes someone who shows no sympathy or pity for other people, or not feeling sorry about another person’s suffering.
    And if we say someone is a cold fish, we think that they are unfriendly and unemotional.

    1. Kate Woodford

      Hi! I’m delighted to hear it! The good news is that it’s part of a thread. You can read Parts 1 & 3 too on the same subject, if you like!

  4. Vaishnavi.Y

    Hello cambridge
    Actually i found that it is super easy to use various unique words if we know the etymology of those words..
    Why not provide division of words and thier origins with their meaning!!
    Kindly contemplate on my suggestion !!
    This pans out impressively!!
    Thank you very much.

    1. Kate Woodford

      Hi! Thanks for your kind comments! It’s a nice suggestion but, alas, these are quite short posts and it’s hard to fit in everything we want to say even without information on etymology. But I do know what you mean – hearing about the origins of a phrase can help to lodge the phrase in the memory. All the best to you!

  5. I haven’t even an appropriate word, in my language, reflecting the meaning for the word “tender-hearted”. May I assume that the synonym for it сan be “merciful” or “sensitive”?

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