un·​gain·​ly ˌən-ˈgān-lē How to pronounce ungainly (audio)
: lacking in smoothness or dexterity : clumsy
ungainly movements
: hard to handle : unwieldy
an ungainly contraption
: having an awkward appearance
a large ungainly bird
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" that is ultimately derived from the Old Norse preposition gegn, meaning "against." (It is unrelated to the noun in "economic gains" or the verb in "gain an advantage"; those came to English by way of Anglo-French and are related to an Old High German word meaning "to hunt for food.") Ungainly can describe someone who is clumsy, as in "a tall, 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 And Farley was wild, crashing through tables, cramming himself into ungainly costumes, and going full red-faced dynamo mode all in pursuit of every last laugh in the building. Dennis Perkins, EW.com, 14 Dec. 2023 Minus Banville’s own knack for literary ventriloquism, however, this all too evidently European co-production can’t help but feel multiple degrees removed from the real thing, not helped by the shuffling, ungainly presence of a wildly miscast Liam Neeson in shoes once filled by Bogart and Mitchum. Guy Lodge, Variety, 24 Sep. 2022 Jim Nightingale/Newsday RM via Getty Images Of course, its tailfins were already dated, and its sloping front underside was awkward, while its generous ground clearance lent it an ungainly look. Larry Printz, Ars Technica, 4 Oct. 2023 The first show cannibalizes the second, resulting in an ungainly hybrid that is, if nothing else, still easily the year’s best broadcast procedural about a missing persons squad. Daniel Fienberg, The Hollywood Reporter, 3 Oct. 2023 The play was no masterpiece, an ungainly sprawl with a cast of more than two dozen that, if not shortened by a director, ran three and a half hours. Adam Hochschild, Smithsonian Magazine, 26 Oct. 2023 And the company that Zaslav has ended up leading is an ungainly entity, stuck with colossal debts. Clare Malone, The New Yorker, 23 Aug. 2023 In a few years, though, the ungainly hybrid that Malone and Zaslav built may be just a part of a new merger—another attempt to fix a problem that no one can solve. Clare Malone, The New Yorker, 23 Aug. 2023 The Hyatt brand stipulated a rotating bar and restaurant at the top of the hotel, and this was typically perched in ungainly fashion on the building roof. Mark Lamster, Dallas News, 1 June 2023 See More

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

Word History


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

First Known Use

1611, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

Time Traveler
The first known use of ungainly was in 1611


Dictionary Entries Near ungainly

Cite this Entry

“Ungainly.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/ungainly. Accessed 3 Mar. 2024.

Kids Definition


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

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