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 Such surly sentiments can persist right up to the moment the house lights dim. Ben Brantley, New York Times, "Why I’ll Never Stop Being a Theater Critic," 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, "Bob Gibson, Feared Flamethrower for the Cardinals, Dies at 84," 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, "Getting to know George Harrison through his own words," 6 Aug. 2020 On the 7th hole, the surly pseudoscientist hit a mediocre greenside bunker shot and angrily threw his club — manufactured by Cobra and available from all good stockists — into the sand. Eamon Lynch, Detroit Free Press, "Opinion: Bryson DeChambeau berating a PGA Tour cameraman in Detroit reveals his true brand," 5 July 2020 Moss, with her surly, almost witchy demeanor, initially plays Shirley as the latter. Anne Cohen,, "Shirley Isn’t A Biopic — It’s A Horror Story More Terrifying Than Haunting Of Hill House," 8 June 2020 In the episode, Ruckelshaus, Abzug and Chisholm interact with Rep. Wayne Hays and his surly secretary, who is later revealed to be his mistress. Los Angeles Times, "How accurate is ‘Mrs. America’s’ portrayal of Republican women? We investigated," 6 May 2020 Fans of the other 31 teams don’t like the Patriots at all and are quick to rip Belichick for being a surly son of a gun. Andy Nesbitt, For The Win, "Bill Belichick is actually a fun guy who likes having fun," 19 Nov. 2019 Hong describes a visit to a nail salon, where a surly Vietnamese teen-age boy gives her a painful pedicure. Jia Tolentino, The New Yorker, "“Minor Feelings” and the Possibilities of Asian-American Identity," 6 Mar. 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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Time Traveler for surly

Time Traveler

The first known use of surly was in 1523

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Last Updated

25 Oct 2020

Cite this Entry

“Surly.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 26 Oct. 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

More from Merriam-Webster on surly

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for surly

Nglish: Translation of surly for Spanish Speakers

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