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

The literature of interwar Britain is full of bad food, dirty floors, and surly amateurish cooks and cleaners. Charlotte Mendelson, The New Yorker, "The Stunning Grounds, and Tragic History, of the Lost Gardens of Heligan," 2 Aug. 2019 Over and over, the Lorns slip the surly bonds of family in a tale set against the backdrop of an American century., "5 novels to escape with this summer," 1 Aug. 2019 Judge hit a go-ahead, two-run homer in the eighth inning Tuesday night, Gregorius followed with his slam and the New York Yankees beat Tampa Bay, 8-3, after another surly clash between Sabathia and the Rays. Jake Seiner,, "Benches clear before Yankees KO Rays," 17 July 2019 Aaron Judge hit a go-ahead, two-run homer in the eighth inning, Didi Gregorius followed with a grand slam and the New York Yankees beat Tampa Bay 8-3 Tuesday night after another surly clash between CC Sabathia and the Rays. Jake Seiner,, "Judge, Gregorius lift Yanks over Rays after CC starts fracas," 17 July 2019 This is the Cousins that his critics have always pointed to: foul-prone and surly, trouble for his team. Louisa Thomas, The New Yorker, "DeMarcus Cousins and Narrative Whiplash in the N.B.A. Finals," 6 June 2019 The often-surly Ava steals a dog which leads her to its owner, Juan (Juan Cano), who’s taken refuge on a deserted stretch of beach after being hurt in a fight. Loren King,, "At the MFA, it’s time for the Boston French Film Festival," 5 July 2018 Schoonover is unbreakably peppy as Marilyn; the bet is that Abby can’t make Marilyn angry, and Schoonover’s beaming smile and resilient happiness are like nails on a chalkboard for Gottesman’s surly Abby. Nelson Pressley, Washington Post, "Lindsay-Abaire’s ‘Ripcord’ pulls the rug out from under senior-living pranksters," 19 June 2019 Napoleon, a shy, surly, solitary boy with a ghastly Corsican accent and floppy spaniel’s sidelocks, was unhappy among the self-confident aristocratic cadets, who teased him about his humble origins. Adam Zamoyski, The New York Review of Books, "An Ordinary Man," 4 Apr. 2019

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

27 Aug 2019

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Time Traveler for surly

The first known use of surly was in 1523

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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

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More from Merriam-Webster on surly

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with surly

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for surly

Spanish Central: Translation of surly

Nglish: Translation of surly for Spanish Speakers

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