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

The ungainly compromise that resulted, released this week, has enraged both sides of the debate, sparking ministerial resignations and giving new wing to the effort to oust Mrs. May from power. Max Colchester, WSJ, "Simple but Undefined Brexit Question Leads to Reckoning for U.K.’s May," 16 Nov. 2018 For a few years after the series merged in 2013, the ungainly Daytona Prototypes raced against Le Mans-spec LMP2 prototypes, a tricky balancing act for the people who had to write the rules. Jonathan M. Gitlin, Ars Technica, "IMSA’s WeatherTech series is going great, but where does it go next?," 3 Sep. 2018 This goes back to the car’s aesthetics: That long, fairly ungainly front overhang allows it to more effectively leverage aero forces. Dan Neil, WSJ, "2019 McLaren Senna: A Pet Racecar for Billionaires," 31 May 2018 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

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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The first known use of ungainly was in 1611

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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

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

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using a distributed computer network

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