un·gain·ly | \ˌən-ˈgān-lē \

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

Synonyms & Antonyms for ungainly


awkward, clumsy, gawkish, gawky, graceless, klutzy, uncoordinated


coordinated, graceful

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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

One of those scenarios seems delightful, the other indecent and ungainly. Nitsuh Abebe, New York Times, "New Sentences: From Jesse Ball’s ‘Census’," 20 June 2018 Unlike a uniform steak, a butterflied leg of lamb is a lumpy, ungainly thing. Melissa Clark, New York Times, "Lamb, Under Fire, and at Its Best," 6 July 2018 To explain that, the fiction offers up anti-gravity repulsorlift technology and the possibility of using deflector shields to give ungainly ships a better, invisible flight profile. Eric Limer, Popular Mechanics, "Which Star Wars Ships Have the Best (and Worst) Aerodynamics?," 19 June 2018 And this week, Slat plans to unveil progress on the first prototype of his invention to reporters in Alameda, California, showing off the ungainly, 2,000-foot-long floating screen that is scheduled to be towed into the ocean before Labor Day. James Rainey /, NBC News, "A young Dutch inventor wants to clean plastic from the ocean. Can he do it?," 13 June 2018 The journalists Norman and Hirsch, on the other hand, offer up more personal takes — valuable if ungainly melds of memoir and reportage marked by excellent intentions and awkward prose. Parul Sehgal, New York Times, "Three Views of the Crisis in Women’s Health," 13 Mar. 2018 The versatile Belgium made just five league starts in 2017/18 and has frequently been criticised for his ungainly style. SI.com, "PSG Set to offer Man Utd Contract Rebel €5m-a-Year Deal as Inter & Arsenal End Interest," 5 June 2018 The Cormorant looks ungainly (especially compared with the water bird for which it’s now named), lunging straight up into the air via a pair of six-foot fan rotors hidden underneath its body, one in front, one in back. Jack Stewart, WIRED, "Israel's Self-Flying 'Cormorant' Whisks Wounded Soldiers to Safety," 26 May 2018 Women raced the ungainly high-wheel penny-farthings throughout the 1880s, but the advent of the safety bicycle, with its equal-sized wheels, chain drive, improved braking, and lower cost, made the sport more accessible. Kate Siber, Outside Online, "This Seamstress Conquered Bike Racing in the 1890s," 31 May 2018

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

The first known use of ungainly was in 1611

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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 \
ungainlier; ungainliest

Kids Definition of ungainly

: clumsy sense 1, awkward an ungainly walk

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lying above or upon

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