1 a : lacking in smoothness or dexterity : clumsy
b : hard to handle : unwieldy
2 : having an awkward appearance
The futon mattress was heavy and ungainly, without any straps to hold onto, and the two roommates struggled to carry it up the stairs.
"This fall collection was an '80s-inspired kaleidoscope of chaotic colors, awkward ball gowns, ungainly architectural silhouettes, and even a puzzling homage to the clown Pierrot, complete with pointy little hat." -- From an article by Robin Givhan in Newsweek, July 18, 2011
Did You Know?
What do you have to gain by knowing the root of "ungainly?" Plenty. The "gain" in "ungainly" is an obsolete English adjective meaning "direct," ultimately derived from the Old Norse preposition "gegn," meaning "against." (The unrelated verb "gain" came to English by way of Anglo-French and is related to an Old High German word meaning "to hunt for food.") "Ungainly" can describe someone who’s clumsy (as in "a tall and ungainly man"), or something that causes you to feel clumsy when you try to handle it (as in "a car with ungainly controls"), or something that simply looks awkward and out of place (as in "an ungainly strip mall").
Test Your Vocabulary with M-W Quizzes
Name That Synonym
What synonym of "ungainly" is a relative of "encumber"? The answer is ...