\ˈsprȯl \
sprawled; sprawling; sprawls

Definition of sprawl 

(Entry 1 of 2)

intransitive verb

1a archaic : to lie thrashing or tossing about

b : to creep or clamber awkwardly

2 : to lie or sit with arms and legs spread out

3 : to spread or develop irregularly or without restraint bushes sprawling along the road sprawling suburbs a sprawling narrative

transitive verb

: to cause to spread out carelessly or awkwardly sprawled out her books on the table



Definition of sprawl (Entry 2 of 2)

1 : the act, posture, or condition of sprawling

2 : an irregularly spread or scattered group or mass

Examples of sprawl in a Sentence


The kids sprawled on the floor to watch TV. She tripped and went sprawling into the table. The city sprawls along the coastline. The bushes were sprawling along the road.
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Recent Examples on the Web: Verb

More photos in the feature show Kourtney getting even barer, posing completely nude atop a counter or sprawled out on the floor. Erica Gonzales, Harper's BAZAAR, "Kourtney Kardashian Is Totally Pantless on the Cover of GQ Mexico," 27 Nov. 2018 The 36-year-old mother of four was naked, her body sprawled on a roadside. Kyle Swenson, The Seattle Times, "Elderly prisoner claims he’s America’s deadliest serial killer with 90 victims. Police believe him.," 20 Nov. 2018 Climate change, sprawling development and plenty of fuel are ushering in an era of megafires. Rani Molla, Recode, "10 charts that sum up 2018 (so far)," 13 Aug. 2018 The undersized cages sold for tomatoes work perfectly for supporting lightweight ground cherries and will keep them from sprawling. The Editors, Good Housekeeping, "How to Grow Hundreds of Ground Cherries," 31 July 2018 Mikayla was found sprawled on the floor in a hallway in Cobo, trying to take a nap before her sister's last match of the day. Aja Gaines And Taylor Gribble, Detroit Free Press, "USA Volleyball invades Detroit: Stories from girls junior tournament," 4 July 2018 Take this sprawling five-bedroom, seven-bath mountain contemporary home in the posh Snake River Sporting Club. Megan Barber, Curbed, "Mod mountain retreat asks $11.9M," 9 Nov. 2018 The sprawling 6,000 square foot space, is filled with Liaigre’s modern Parisian pieces—including the Aspre Sectional, Hestia Lounge Chair and Iliade Coffee Table. Elise Taylor, Vogue, "From Goop Lab to One Kings Lane: 8 New Design Destinations to Know," 7 Nov. 2018 Inside a miniature tomb, in the middle of what used to be a sprawling Roman villa, is the skeleton of a 10-year-old child who died more than 1,500 years ago. Kristine Phillips, The Seattle Times, "Archaeologists find ‘vampire burial’ site of a child feared capable of rising from the dead," 26 Oct. 2018

Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

If left to sprawl, the plants become more prone to disease and the fruit quality can suffer. Doug Hall, Good Housekeeping, "The 4 Best Ways to Support Your Tomato Plants," 19 July 2018 The series is a lengthy sprawl that reaches back to Interview with the Vampire, first published in 1976. Andrew Liptak, The Verge, "Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles is headed to Hulu," 17 July 2018 And all in a scenic sprawl incorporating mountains and lakes that figure into many of the activities. Kavita Daswani, latimes.com, "Your Instagram-ready summer getaway starts here...," 26 May 2018 The Rider’’ — have opened to critical acclaim, television has the sprawl to give these questions some serious consideration, and the flexibility to revive a genre that hasn’t been commercially viable at the multiplexes for years. Scott Tobias, BostonGlobe.com, "How TV has brought the western into the 21st century," 5 July 2018 Families stuff themselves at iftar, a communal meal at sundown, then sprawl in front of the set to watch nightly serials known as mosalsalat. The Economist, "Egypt’s bumbling police get their man, at least on television," 31 May 2018 Yet this diversity, plus a comparable density of incident—battle after battle after battle—leads to narrative sprawl on an epic scale. Joe Morgenstern, WSJ, "Review: ‘Avengers’ Gets an Incomplete," 25 Apr. 2018 But critics say extending a highway ranked among the 50 worst in the U.S. beyond the urban development border, rather than focusing on the county's SMART transit plan, will only invite more sprawl. Jenny Staletovich, miamiherald, "Roadblock for Miami-Dade parkway plan? Feds own big chunks of wetlands along the route," 19 June 2018 Several council members at the time said HOV lanes - which become regular all-user lanes during non-commute hours - would just encourage more suburban sprawl and more traffic. Tony Bizjak, sacbee, "Highway 50 drivers, your daily commute is in for a big change. Light rail users, you too | The Sacramento Bee," 30 Apr. 2018

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

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First Known Use of sprawl


before the 12th century, in the meaning defined at intransitive sense 1a


1598, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for sprawl


Middle English, from Old English sprēawlian

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Statistics for sprawl

Last Updated

14 Dec 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for sprawl

The first known use of sprawl was before the 12th century

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More Definitions for sprawl



English Language Learners Definition of sprawl

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: to lie or sit with your arms and legs spread wide apart

: to spread or develop in an uneven or uncontrolled way



English Language Learners Definition of sprawl (Entry 2 of 2)

: a group of things (such as buildings) that cover an area in an uneven and ugly way


\ˈsprȯl \
sprawled; sprawling

Kids Definition of sprawl

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 : to lie or sit with arms and legs spread out

2 : to spread out unevenly The city of Madison sprawls between two lakes …— Sharon Creech, Walk Two Moons



Kids Definition of sprawl (Entry 2 of 2)

: the act or posture of spreading out

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More from Merriam-Webster on sprawl

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with sprawl

Spanish Central: Translation of sprawl

Nglish: Translation of sprawl for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of sprawl for Arabic Speakers

Comments on sprawl

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a nest or breeding place

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