sur·​ly | \ ˈsər-lē How to pronounce surly (audio) \
surlier; surliest

Definition of surly

1 : menacing or threatening in appearance surly weather
2 obsolete : arrogant, imperious
3 : irritably sullen and churlish in mood or manner : crabbed

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Other Words from surly

surlily \ ˈsər-​lə-​lē How to pronounce surly (audio) \ adverb
surliness \ ˈsər-​lē-​nəs How to pronounce surly (audio) \ noun
surly adverb

Choose the Right Synonym for surly

sullen, glum, morose, surly, sulky, crabbed, saturnine, gloomy mean showing a forbidding or disagreeable mood. sullen implies a silent ill humor and a refusal to be sociable. remained sullen amid the festivities glum suggests a silent dispiritedness. a glum candidate left to ponder a stunning defeat morose adds to glum an element of bitterness or misanthropy. morose job seekers who are inured to rejection surly implies gruffness and sullenness of speech or manner. a typical surly teenager sulky suggests childish resentment expressed in peevish sullenness. grew sulky after every spat crabbed applies to a forbidding morose harshness of manner. the school's notoriously crabbed headmaster saturnine describes a heavy forbidding aspect or suggests a bitter disposition. a saturnine cynic always finding fault gloomy implies a depression in mood making for seeming sullenness or glumness. a gloomy mood ushered in by bad news

Did You Know?

In its very earliest uses in the 16th century, surly meant "majestic" or "lordly." These early meanings make sense when you know that this word is an alteration of Middle English "serreli," which probably comes from "sire, ser," a title formerly used as a form of address for men of rank or authority. So how did a word with such lofty beginnings come to be associated with grumbling rudeness? Arrogant and domineering behavior is sometimes associated with men of rank or position, and "surly" came to mean "haughty" or "imperious." These meanings (which are now obsolete) led to the "rude" sense that is very common today.

Examples of surly in a Sentence

went about his chores in a surly huff, totally annoyed that he was stuck at home on this beautiful Saturday the surly receptionist told us we'd have to wait outside in the rain
Recent Examples on the Web It’s a screwball comedy and Harlequin romance starring quick-witted heroines, surly detectives and devastatingly handsome heirs. Caroline Framke,, 5 Apr. 2021 On their way to Lowtown, they’re escorted to an underground club of surly faces and complicated drinks. Brian Tallerico, Vulture, 2 Apr. 2021 Bacteria that have slipped Earth’s surly bonds can also become more resistant to antibiotics—a recipe for disaster, given the fact that long-duration spaceflight tends to weaken astronauts’ immune systems. Shannon Hall, Scientific American, 11 Mar. 2021 In the ’90s, Rebecca and Jack ditch their unbearably surly teenagers for a weekend alone at the cabin, but Jack spends most of the time being a Real Sad Boy about his kids growing up and not wanting anything to do with them. Maggie Fremont, Vulture, 16 Feb. 2021 When talk turned to the recent elections, Ms. Kurtz firmly pivoted to the Birds and the pace picked up, with the same surly commiserating normally done in person: The injuries. Mary Beth Mccauley, The Christian Science Monitor, 30 Nov. 2020 Such surly sentiments can persist right up to the moment the house lights dim. Ben Brantley, New York Times, 16 Oct. 2020 When Gibson was in his prime on Cardinal teams that also featured Black stars like Brock, Curt Flood and Orlando Cepeda, his reputation as an intimidating if not surly presence may have been influenced by racial issues. Richard Goldstein, New York Times, 2 Oct. 2020 Perhaps George’s behavior is for the benefit of Lynne and Petty, who, sitting on either side of him, say little while maintaining the attitude of surly rock-and-rollers. Washington Post, 6 Aug. 2020

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'surly.' 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 surly

1523, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for surly

alteration of Middle English serreli lordly, imperious, probably from sire, ser sire

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Last Updated

17 Apr 2021

Cite this Entry

“Surly.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 15 Jun. 2021.

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More Definitions for surly



English Language Learners Definition of surly

: rude and unfriendly


sur·​ly | \ ˈsər-lē How to pronounce surly (audio) \
surlier; surliest

Kids Definition of surly

: mean and rude : unfriendly a surly neighbor

More from Merriam-Webster on surly

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for surly

Nglish: Translation of surly for Spanish Speakers


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