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 After the sudden death of surly patriarch Mac (Stephen Root), Frank reluctantly returns home for the funeral with Beth and Wally in tow. Mia Galuppo, The Hollywood Reporter, "Sundance: Amazon Acquires Alan Ball Drama 'Uncle Frank'," 27 Jan. 2020 Molly initially is surly and resentful, albeit with flickers of shame when confronted with evidence of her worst crimes over the years. David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter, "'Four Good Days': Film Review | Sundance 2020," 26 Jan. 2020 Kaepernick seemed unhappy and behaved in a surly public manner. Ann Killion,, "Memorable moments: Colin Kaepernick steps into the national spotlight," 22 Dec. 2019 The area, known as the Drake Passage, is an icy and often surly body of water near where the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans meet. John Bacon, USA TODAY, "Chances of survival 'difficult' after Chilean military plane goes missing with 38 aboard," 11 Dec. 2019 Instead, Potter senior has to importune a surly centaur. Jason Kehe, Wired, "Harry Potter and the Curse of Technology," 11 Dec. 2019 Beverley is a stoic figure before Clippers games, even surly toward opponents. Andrew Greif, Los Angeles Times, "Patrick Beverley enjoys a surprise reunion before Clippers’ blowout win," 6 Oct. 2019 Camp brings a surly dignity to Tennant, beneath bug-like eyebrows and a growling West Virgina drawl. Bill Goodykoontz, azcentral, "Mark Ruffalo shines in legal drama 'Dark Waters,' which flows slowly but impressively," 26 Nov. 2019 Brady himself has seemed extra surly since Sunday’s win over the Eagles. Andy Nesbitt, For The Win, "This is when Tom Brady and the Patriots are at their very best," 22 Nov. 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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Time Traveler for surly

Time Traveler

The first known use of surly was in 1523

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Last Updated

26 Feb 2020

Cite this Entry

“Surly.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 26 Feb. 2020.

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More Definitions for surly


How to pronounce surly (audio)

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

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for surly

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with surly

Spanish Central: Translation of surly

Nglish: Translation of surly for Spanish Speakers

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