\ ˈsprȯl How to pronounce sprawl (audio) \
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

Highlander’s offices now sit in a sprawling former wool mill in western Providence. E. Tammy Kim, The New Yorker, "The Messy Reality of Personalized Learning," 10 July 2019 Inside a sprawling midcentury modern house in the West Hollywood hills, Mereba and her lover oscillate between silence and bursts of fleeting joy through a black and white filter. Lauren Valenti, Vogue, "Rising Singer Mereba Serves Up Regal Beauty in Her New “Sandstorm” Music Video," 9 July 2019 The grand prairies of grasses, wildflowers, bushes and small flowering trees were dotted intermittently by great, sprawling oaks. USA TODAY, "Ink library, parking barnacles, lunar training grounds: News from around our 50 states," 9 July 2019 Playa Del Rey, in the sprawling Los Angeles basin—contains more than half a million residents within a five-mile radius. Larry Buhl, The New Republic, "The Toxic-Gas Catastrophe Hiding Beneath Your Home," 8 July 2019 The decades-old plan of sprawling industrial campuses paving over Coyote Valley is outdated. Letters To The Editor, The Mercury News, "Letter: Voters prefer infill development and protecting Coyote Valley," 9 June 2019 That became the window to larger stories about community across the sprawling 3,500 square-mile (9,064 square-kilometer) reservation. Washington Post, "‘The Buffalo Hunt’ seeks to show tribe in a new light," 7 June 2019 The sprawling campus will be on roughly 350 acres of land in Bentonville. Nathaniel Meyersohn, CNN, "Walmart's Arkansas hometown has become a tech hub," 7 June 2019 But not everyone likes what’s in store for the sprawling campus. Ray Boyd, https://www.inquirer.com, "Overdose death changes two families forever; The future of Germantown High School | Morning Newsletter," 6 June 2019

Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

Meanwhile, the new State Route 400 was delivering Atlanta’s sprawl farther and farther north. Washington Post, "A resident of a diversifying Southern subdivision was arrested on terrorism charges. How would the neighbors react?," 15 June 2019 Another factor that promoted urban revival was the belated realization that suburban sprawl has a downside. Tom Condon, courant.com, "As Connecticut cities revive, what did we learn from the mistakes of urban renewal?," 26 June 2019 Texas lets its cities sprawl; California has restrictive planning laws. The Economist, "Texafornia dreaming," 20 June 2019 Now row after row of white plastic hoop houses sprawl amid rolling vineyards and country estates, and coastal bungalows and schools carry the whiff of backcountry Humboldt. Joe Mozingo, latimes.com, "The world’s largest pot farms, and how Santa Barbara opened the door," 12 June 2019 Garage doors are ubiquitous in the Valley's sprawl of multi-car-garage subdivisions. Robert Anglen, azcentral, "'Garage-Door Guy' stiffs Arizona customers on unfinished jobs," 6 June 2019 At the same time, local zoning politics have badly overegged the ability of urban homeowners, in the name of resisting traffic, sprawl or crime, to block development that would alleviate California’s dire urban housing shortage. Holman W. Jenkins, WSJ, "California Burns for Better Leaders," 15 Jan. 2019 Winter squash need room to stretch as their vines sprawl 10 to 15 feet in every direction; train the plants up a trellis or fence to conserve space. Arricca Sansone, Country Living, "16 Types of Squash and Everything You Need to Know About Them," 28 Dec. 2018 The LiDAR analysis also shows that Maya cities and surrounding settlements sprawl for miles around city centers, connected by a web of roads and dense grids of farm fields. Chris Stirewalt, Fox News, "Flake & Co. try to tame partisan wildfire," 28 Sep. 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

13 Jul 2019

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 How to pronounce sprawl (audio) \
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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