mal·​adroit ˌma-lə-ˈdrȯit How to pronounce maladroit (audio)
: lacking adroitness : inept
The governor has been criticized for his maladroit handling of the budget crisis.
maladroitly adverb
maladroitness noun

Did you know?

Maladroit Comes From Old and Middle French

Maladroit is perhaps an awkward fit for casual speech—outside of the occasional Weezer album title, one most often encounters it in formal writing—but you can remember its meaning by breaking it down into its French building blocks. The first is the word mal, meaning "badly," which may be familiar from English words including malaise ("a vague sense of mental or moral ill-being") and malodorous ("having a bad odor"). The second is adroit, meaning "having or showing skill, cleverness, or resourcefulness in handling situations." Middle French speakers put those pieces together as maladroit to describe the clumsy and incompetent among them, and English speakers borrowed the word intact. We'd adopted adroit from them a short time before.

Choose the Right Synonym for maladroit

awkward, clumsy, maladroit, inept, gauche mean not marked by ease (as of performance, movement, or social conduct).

awkward is widely applicable and may suggest unhandiness, inconvenience, lack of muscular control, embarrassment, or lack of tact.

periods of awkward silence

clumsy implies stiffness and heaviness and so may connote inflexibility, unwieldiness, or lack of ordinary skill.

a clumsy mechanic

maladroit suggests a tendency to create awkward situations.

a maladroit politician

inept often implies complete failure or inadequacy.

a hopelessly inept defense attorney

gauche implies the effects of shyness, inexperience, or ill breeding.

felt gauche and unsophisticated at formal parties

Examples of maladroit in a Sentence

The governor has been criticized for his maladroit handling of the budget crisis. some maladroit steering on her part caused the bicycle to go crashing into the bushes
Recent Examples on the Web Every possible strategy that Senate Republicans might be following is maladroit to a degree one associates less with the Senate than with the House under Speaker Kevin McCarthy. Timothy Noah, The New Republic, 30 Aug. 2023 Yes, there is always a danger that a maladroit statement or some baffling syntax will go viral. Walter Shapiro, The New Republic, 3 July 2023 Factor in a politically maladroit Afghan government and endemic corruption, and once the Taliban began to roll up government surrenders in the provinces, their offensive took on a life of its own. The Editors, National Review, 15 Aug. 2021 The series is itself like a socially awkward teen-age nerd—charming but maladroit, heedless, a little exhausting. Sarah Larson, The New Yorker, 10 May 2020 His own party criticizes what many call his maladroit communication on an anxiety-inducing subject. Adam Nossiter, New York Times, 9 Dec. 2019 Playwrights Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon concoct for her a suitor who’s just as introverted and socially maladroit, the newly wealthy Arthur de Bourgh. Dominic P. Papatola, Twin Cities, 24 Nov. 2019 Equally maladroit was her debate decision to wrap herself in an unpopular policy that ended 20 years ago. George Will, Twin Cities, 7 July 2019 Hicks bungled his hijacking of the Johnson, however, and proved maladroit at escaping, leaving a clear trail of evidence along his getaway route. Rinker Buck, WSJ, 28 June 2019 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'maladroit.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


French, from Middle French, from mal- + adroit

First Known Use

1685, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of maladroit was in 1685


Dictionary Entries Near maladroit

Cite this Entry

“Maladroit.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 25 Feb. 2024.

Kids Definition


mal·​adroit ˌmal-ə-ˈdrȯit How to pronounce maladroit (audio)
maladroitly adverb
maladroitness noun
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