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

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 And so Xander is packed off to Prague to embed himself in the underworld of 99's ex-Russian soldier ringleader Yorgi (Marton Csokas) and his surly girlfriend-slash-co-conspirator Yelena (Asia Argento). Leah Greenblatt,, 11 Aug. 2022 Several states away, in Aurora, Ill., Thom’s sister, Aubrey, has her own preoccupations — a surly stepson, an elderly neighbor, a nefarious ex-husband, the need to persuade the guy who used to grow weed to switch to vegetables. New York Times, 20 July 2022 Schofield will appear as Phil, a surly, transgender manager of the NY bookstore where the main character works who is trying to become a novelist. Wilson Chapman, Variety, 7 July 2022 Montana, The Power of the Dog details the tensions and secrets that emerge when a wealthy rancher (Jesse Plemons) brings his new wife (Kirsten Dunst) and her son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) to live with his surly cowboy brother (Benedict Cumberbatch). Marley Marius, Vogue, 4 June 2022 Wednesday afternoon, Clive slipped the surly bonds of Earth's atmosphere and experienced space for himself. Neal Rubin, Detroit Free Press, 26 May 2022 The show chronicles the life of Beth Harmon, who loses her mother at a young age and is sent to live in an orphanage, where learning to play chess from the surly janitor in the basement is the only bright spot in her life. The Editors, Outside Online, 7 Dec. 2020 For 24-year-old Daniele — a surly, taciturn wastrel who serves as the film’s human focal point — life is only worth living on the water, ideally at great speed. Guy Lodge, Variety, 10 Apr. 2022 However, Eve soon learns that her ragtag staffers each have their strengths, most notably the surly and skittish Fred. Gary Goldstein, Los Angeles Times, 30 Mar. 2022 See More

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.

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

15 Aug 2022

Cite this Entry

“Surly.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 16 Aug. 2022.

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More Definitions for surly


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

Nglish: Translation of surly for Spanish Speakers


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