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

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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 In 1936, top Suffolk Downs trainer Tom Smith first saw Seabiscuit, an ungainly looking 3-year-old thoroughbred. BostonGlobe.com, "This day in history," 29 June 2020 Those limbs, so ungainly on land, turned fleet in the water. Sylvia Poggioli, The New York Review of Books, "Pandemic Journal, March 23–29," 29 Mar. 2020 His dancers are often caught in awkward, ungainly poses, stretching and yawning, or slumped, exhausted. Carol Strickland, The Christian Science Monitor, "Degas painted dancers and musicians with deftness and authority," 4 May 2020 The grit has often been overlooked because of the glamor, which also helped transform the once ungainly child who was born in Siberia into a global star. Aimee Lewis, CNN, "Maria Sharapova, the ultimate competitor with a complicated legacy," 27 Feb. 2020 The 2019 Subaru Ascent is slowly helping us to purge the brand's ungainly Tribeca SUV (2006–2014) from our memories. David Beard, Car and Driver, "Our Subaru Ascent Drinks Heavily When Towing," 24 Jan. 2020 The oversized safety and bolt release are ungainly, and who’s going to swoon over yet another black plastic stock? John B. Snow, Outdoor Life, "Best Guns of the Decade," 2 Jan. 2020 Medvedev has ungainly but effective strokes, sneaky speed, and, apparently, an ability to access deep reservoirs of self-belief. Louisa Thomas, The New Yorker, "Seven Turning Points from the Year in Sports," 18 Dec. 2019 Marcus had to reintroduce Alex to their boisterous, ungainly mother and their strict, distant father, and also to a life where material privilege and emotional deprivation went hand-in-hand. Justin Chang, Los Angeles Times, "Review: Twin brothers Alex and Marcus Lewis tell their hauntingly strange story in ‘Tell Me Who I Am’," 17 Oct. 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.

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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

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Time Traveler for ungainly

Time Traveler

The first known use of ungainly was in 1611

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Last Updated

12 Jul 2020

Cite this Entry

“Ungainly.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/ungainly. Accessed 12 Jul. 2020.

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More Definitions for ungainly


How to pronounce ungainly (audio)

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

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More from Merriam-Webster on ungainly

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for ungainly

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with ungainly

Spanish Central: Translation of ungainly

Nglish: Translation of ungainly for Spanish Speakers

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