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 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 Dumpty grudgingly consented in a sour and surly sulk. John Lithgow, The New Yorker, 27 Sep. 2021 When Coulter meets Drudge in the series, the young, surly attorney is intrigued by the nobody from Los Angeles whose dirt on Clinton boosts her own cause. Los Angeles Times, 21 Sep. 2021 Retirement doesn’t suit James Bond, which is handy, because there’d be no movie if his old friend Felix didn’t solicit his sense of surly obligation for a final, globe-saving gig. Michael Phillips,, 16 Sep. 2021 Larry Miller’s turn as a surly doorman who makes Jerry’s life a living hell — first by taunting him over alleged classism, then by forcing him to stand in as the doorman to Mr. Pitt’s building—is top-tier guest-spot material. Larry Fitzmaurice, Vulture, 1 Sep. 2021 One of the teams that wanted Mays – one of the best pitchers in the league but a surly teammate - was the Indians. Marc Bona, cleveland, 15 Aug. 2021 Apparently, the Willie Jack character was originally written as a boy, but Alexis brings such a natural and infectious charm to the surly character. Kali Simmons, Vulture, 10 Aug. 2021 In that maelstrom of cunning mobsters, careless crooks, and effete, affluent New Jersey socialites, my anchor is A.J. Soprano, the surly son of the show’s titular boss. Craig Jenkins, Vulture, 29 July 2021 Civilian space travel took a giant leap upward this month as two of the world's richest people slipped the surly bonds of earth in their own personal flightcraft. Kirby Adams, The Courier-Journal, 23 July 2021

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

2 Oct 2021

Cite this Entry

“Surly.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 19 Oct. 2021.

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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

More from Merriam-Webster on surly

Nglish: Translation of surly for Spanish Speakers


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