knot·​ty ˈnä-tē How to pronounce knotty (audio)
knottier; knottiest
: marked by or full of knots
especially : so full of difficulties and complications as to be likely to defy solution
a knotty problem
knottiness noun
Choose the Right Synonym for knotty

complex, complicated, intricate, involved, knotty mean having confusingly interrelated parts.

complex suggests the unavoidable result of a necessary combining and does not imply a fault or failure.

a complex recipe

complicated applies to what offers great difficulty in understanding, solving, or explaining.

complicated legal procedures

intricate suggests such interlacing of parts as to make it nearly impossible to follow or grasp them separately.

an intricate web of deceit

involved implies extreme complication and often disorder.

a rambling, involved explanation

knotty suggests complication and entanglement that make solution or understanding improbable.

knotty ethical questions

Example Sentences

the knotty problems that arise when every nation is part of the global marketplace the candidates cautiously gave their views on an array of knotty issues
Recent Examples on the Web Yet what makes the prequel stand out is not its political maneuverings but its convincingly knotty interpersonal dynamics. Kyle Chayka, The New Yorker, 24 Oct. 2022 The question of how many council meetings De León can miss is a bit knotty — the rules are in the City Charter, but suffice to say that this isn’t a situation the city has dealt with before. Matt Hamilton, Los Angeles Times, 22 Oct. 2022 Slay Tracks contained in seed form the peculiar pastiche of noise, jittery melody, and mostly knotty lyrics that would blossom on later records. Jim Greer, SPIN, 31 July 2022 The performers start singing a knotty, multi-genre overture that incorporates several of Loesser’s songs. Vinson Cunningham, The New Yorker, 25 July 2022 Consciousness presents a particularly knotty philosophical puzzle, and there is no easy consensus on how to define it, let alone prove its presence. Camille Bromley, The Atlantic, 18 July 2022 When these quickies started rolling in, Sears would work all night if necessary to attend to each knotty query. Catherine Musemeche, Smithsonian Magazine, 7 July 2022 There are also knotty questions of how to determine and uphold appropriate standards of minimum competence. Samuel Goldman, The Week, 14 July 2021 Directors like to shoot her in lingering closeups, her knotty, expressive face going blank with detachment or flashing with wildness, her eyes staring down her beaky nose like a pair of determined headlights. Michael Schulman, The New Yorker, 29 Apr. 2022 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'knotty.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

Word History

First Known Use

13th century, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of knotty was in the 13th century

Dictionary Entries Near knotty

Cite this Entry

“Knotty.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 5 Dec. 2022.

Kids Definition



knot·​ty ˈnät-ē How to pronounce knotty (audio)
knottier; knottiest
: full of knots
knotty wood
: difficult sense 2b
a knotty problem

More from Merriam-Webster on knotty

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