un·​can·​ny ˌən-ˈka-nē How to pronounce uncanny (audio)
uncannier; uncanniest
: seeming to have a supernatural character or origin : eerie, mysterious
: being beyond what is normal or expected : suggesting superhuman or supernatural powers
an uncanny sense of direction
chiefly Scotland : severe, punishing
uncannily adverb
uncanniness noun

Did you know?

Uncanny describes that which unsettles us, such as disquieting observations, or mysterious situations and circumstances. Strip the word of its common negating prefix, though, and you’re left with canny, a word that shares semantic territory with clever and prudent. While canny and uncanny don’t appear to be antonyms, they both come from an early Scottish word canny meaning “free from risk; wise, prudent, cautious.” And in Scottish, canny has for centuries had a secondary meaning that correlates better to its mysterious cousin: the Oxford English Dictionary reports that the word is used in negative constructions to describe what is not safe to be involved with, or more broadly, what is not in accordance with what is right or natural. Rather uncanny.

Choose the Right Synonym for uncanny

weird, eerie, uncanny mean mysteriously strange or fantastic.

weird may imply an unearthly or supernatural strangeness or it may stress peculiarity or oddness.

weird creatures from another world

eerie suggests an uneasy or fearful consciousness that mysterious and malign powers are at work.

an eerie calm preceded the bombing raid

uncanny implies disquieting strangeness or mysteriousness.

an uncanny resemblance between total strangers

Examples of uncanny in a Sentence

I was struck by his uncanny ability to communicate arcane, complex economic policy and by his punk-rock instinct to question the status quo. Bono, Time, 18 Apr. 2005
To an economist, the 1990s bear an uncanny resemblance to two earlier decades: the 1920s in the United States and the 1980s in Japan. In all three decades, technological change produced extraordinary economic growth, leading to talk of a "new era" and triggering a bull market in stocks that terminated in a market collapse—widely regarded as the bursting of a speculative bubble. Milton Friedman, Wall Street Journal, 22 Jan. 2002
As he approached quite close to the enclosure he saw an excited group surrounding the two fugitives, who, trembling with fright and exhaustion, were scarce able to recount the uncanny details of their adventure. Edgar Rice Burroughs, Tarzan of the Apes, 1914
She could not teach herself to think favourably of Pansy, whose absence of initiative, of conversation, of personal claims, seemed to her, in a girl of twenty, unnatural and even uncanny. Henry James, The Portrait of a Lady, 1881
She had an uncanny resemblance to someone I had seen before. She has an uncanny sense of direction. an uncanny ability to predict the weather See More
Recent Examples on the Web Grounded in the city, with no work or school obligations, the timing was uncanny. Christine Lennon, Sunset Magazine, 13 Feb. 2024 The team’s uncanny ability to come back from the brink had earned them the nickname ‘Zombie Elephants’ and Ivory Coast lived up to its moniker again in the final. Ben Church, CNN, 12 Feb. 2024 In the aftermath, the NFL and Apple Music have edited the clam out of the re-uploaded Halftime show on YouTube, and the difference in Keys’ vocals is uncanny. Thania Garcia, Variety, 12 Feb. 2024 At just $40 Grand this Subaru Crosstrek is a great buy in the subcompact SUV class, as Subaru’s are known for there uncanny ability to drive in any adverse road condition from snow, sleet, rain, mud, ice, sand and dirt. Tony Leopardo, The Mercury News, 11 Feb. 2024 Ryan Gosling: Australian Shepherd These dogs are known for their beauty and uncanny ability to remember specific commands. Rohita Kadambi, The New Yorker, 8 Feb. 2024 In addition to being outstanding lawyers and formidable champions of our clients’ interests, Michael, Jeff, Kim, Ryan and Peter have an uncanny ability to identify game-changing talent, and a true dedication to collaboration and teamwork. Borys Kit, The Hollywood Reporter, 1 Feb. 2024 In the top photo, Seyfried bears an uncanny resemblance to a young Foster, 61, while there's no denying how similar her expression in the bottom snap looks to Moss, 41. Jen Juneau, Peoplemag, 10 Jan. 2024 Many Swifties have supposed that Swift herself is Conway, pointing to a series of uncanny connections between the film and the singer. Emily Zemler, Rolling Stone, 31 Jan. 2024 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'uncanny.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History

First Known Use

1773, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

Time Traveler
The first known use of uncanny was in 1773


Dictionary Entries Near uncanny

Cite this Entry

“Uncanny.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/uncanny. Accessed 26 Feb. 2024.

Kids Definition


un·​can·​ny ˌən-ˈkan-ē How to pronounce uncanny (audio)
: being beyond what is normal
an uncanny sense of direction
uncannily adverb
uncanniness noun

More from Merriam-Webster on uncanny

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