sur·​ly | \ ˈsər-lē \
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 \ adverb
surliness \ ˈsər-​lē-​nəs \ 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

Such undertakings also offer the ultimate escape fantasy: a chance to slip the surly bonds of social obligations for the entire summer, guilt free. Carrie Seim, The Seattle Times, "Forget vacation, the hot thing to take is a ‘creative hiatus’," 27 Aug. 2018 If his tariffs—and retaliation—damage local economies, the GOP could find its blue-collar base in a surly mood or apathetic about voting. Bob Davis, WSJ, "America’s Factory Towns, Once Solidly Blue, Are Now a GOP Haven," 19 July 2018 When the Silver Vaults first opened in 1876, they were guarded by surly men brandishing swords and shotguns. James Bartlett,, "Need a silver spoon from Henry VIII's time? Shop the London Silver Vaults, the largest retail silver sellers in the world," 22 June 2018 So far this year, about 12 percent of all respondents fall into that surly segment. NBC News, "'Throw the bums out' coalition changes shape in 2018," 17 June 2018 Of course, the woman instantly falls for a man who’s surly or shy toward her. Lily Janiak, San Francisco Chronicle, "Actors keep mediocre ‘Heisenberg’ aloft at ACT," 22 Mar. 2018 Lane will showcase her defiant attitude and surly songs on the Lead Bank Stage at Crossroads KC on Saturday, June 30, as part of Ink’s Middle of the Map festival. Bill Brownlee, kansascity, "Defiant country artist Nikki Lane coming to Ink's Middle of the Map," 18 June 2018 Andrew Potter has real comic chops as the surly Klingon Osmin. Matthew J. Palm,, "Jokes fly faster than warp factor 9 in 'Star Trek Abduction'," 1 June 2018 His bountiful tattoos and surly swagger make Mike Ness, the vocalist and primary songwriter of Social Distortion, look the part of America’s preeminent punk. Bill Brownlee, kansascity, "Social Distortion headlines the Middle of the Map Fest June 30 at Crossroads KC.," 13 June 2018

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

19 Nov 2018

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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 \
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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marked by shyness and lack of polish

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