un·​gain·​ly | \ ˌən-ˈgān-lē How to pronounce ungainly (audio) \

Definition of ungainly

1a : lacking in smoothness or dexterity : clumsy ungainly movements
b : hard to handle : unwieldy an ungainly contraption
2 : having an awkward appearance a large ungainly bird

Keep scrolling for more

Other Words from ungainly

ungainliness noun

Did You Know?

What do you have to gain by knowing the root of "ungainly?" Plenty. The "gain" in "ungainly" is an obsolete English adjective meaning "direct," ultimately derived from the Old Norse preposition gegn, meaning "against." (The unrelated verb "gain" came to English by way of Anglo-French and is related to an Old High German word meaning "to hunt for food.") "Ungainly" can describe someone who’s clumsy (as in "a tall and ungainly man"), or something that causes you to feel clumsy when you try to handle it (as in "a car with ungainly controls"), or something that simply looks awkward and out of place (as in "an ungainly strip mall").

Examples of ungainly in a Sentence

He was tall and ungainly. getting the ungainly couch up the stairs was a real chore

Recent Examples on the Web

Leidy's reconstructions of Megatherium fossils, some of them quite fanciful, fostered the impression of an ungainly and almost comical looking American creature—a fitting mascot for Stimpson's crew. Smithsonian, "The Hard-Drinking Early Smithsonian Naturalists of the Megatherium Club," 4 Sep. 2019 This thing even closed with an ungainly (if exuberant) Garden State free-for-all featuring a bunch of rappers — among them Queen Latifah, Naughty by Nature and Redman — who hadn’t been on MTV since before A.J. Soprano was born. Los Angeles Times, "Welcome to the Resistance, MTV: The 2019 VMAs get woke, celebrate diversity and blast Trump," 27 Aug. 2019 Each of her steps — aided by a medical walking stick — involves considerable effort, and Manivel is palpably fascinated by how this ungainly body navigates physical space. Neil Young, The Hollywood Reporter, "'Isadora's Children' ('Les Enfants d'Isadora'): Film Review | Locarno 2019," 22 Aug. 2019 With their massive heads and linebacker shoulders, the beasts can seem ungainly. Patricia Harris, BostonGlobe.com, "Thundering out of an iconic American past: The Buffalo Roundup in South Dakota’s Custer State Park," 20 Aug. 2019 Elegant and regal above the surface; unseemly and ungainly below. Jon Wertheim, SI.com, "10 Big Questions Ahead of the 2019 U.S. Open," 24 Aug. 2019 Twenty-two gigawatts of wind turbines translates to roughly 10,000 ungainly machines, each perched on a 200-foot or higher tower and requiring routine in-place maintenance. WSJ, "Plugging in the Wind Is a Complicated Issue," 28 June 2019 Like a child learning to ride a bicycle, the bird then launched with ungainly effort, landing on a nearby shrub. Ernie Cowan, San Diego Union-Tribune, "Column: Tiny birdhouse an unexpected home for wren family," 6 July 2019 But the process of memorializing fleeting moments of ungainly success—on the badminton court, the basketball court, the soccer field—had a curiously deflating effect. Ben Mcgrath, The New Yorker, "The Brooklyn Startup Helping High-School Athletes Go Viral," 30 May 2019

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'ungainly.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

See More

First Known Use of ungainly

1611, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

History and Etymology for ungainly

obsolete gain direct, from Middle English gayn, geyn, from Old English gēn, from Old Norse gegn, from gegn, preposition, against; akin to Old English gēan- against — more at again

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about ungainly

Listen to Our Podcast about ungainly

Statistics for ungainly

Last Updated

11 Sep 2019

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for ungainly

The first known use of ungainly was in 1611

See more words from the same year

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for ungainly



English Language Learners Definition of ungainly

: moving in an awkward or clumsy way : not graceful


un·​gain·​ly | \ ˌən-ˈgān-lē How to pronounce ungainly (audio) \
ungainlier; ungainliest

Kids Definition of ungainly

: clumsy sense 1, awkward an ungainly walk

Keep scrolling for more

More from Merriam-Webster on ungainly

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with ungainly

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for ungainly

Spanish Central: Translation of ungainly

Nglish: Translation of ungainly for Spanish Speakers

Comments on ungainly

What made you want to look up ungainly? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


tired or exhausted

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Where in the World? A Quiz

  • peter bruegel tower of babel painting
  • What language does pajama come from?
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?

Bee Cubed

Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!