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

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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 near-term solution has the ungainly name of Accelerated Interim Multinational Maritime Patrol Aircraft System, which has mercifully been shortened in alliance parlance to AIM2S. Loren Thompson, Forbes, 8 June 2021 In the nineteen-seventies, a geophysical survey of the hillside led to speculation that a lion skin had once dangled from the giant’s left arm, which would explain the figure’s somewhat ungainly pose, and might buttress the Herculean identification. Rebecca Mead, The New Yorker, 12 May 2021 Mr Orban has near-total control over Fidesz, the party that has had near-total control of Hungary since 2010; Mr Karacsony owes his job to an ungainly alliance of six parties. The Economist, 8 May 2021 The first is to keep them from becoming huge, ungainly monsters. Steve Bender, Southern Living, 30 Apr. 2021 Two of the missing worker had been communicating with rescuers by two-way radio Tuesday after the ungainly platform ship flipped over in hurricane-force winds that day. BostonGlobe.com, 16 Apr. 2021 Two of the missing workers had been communicating with rescuers by two-way radio Tuesday after the ungainly platform ship flipped over in hurricane-force winds that day. Stacey Plaisance, Star Tribune, 16 Apr. 2021 There’s Ellen Tebbits trying, with ungainly persistence, to pull an enormous beet out of the ground to bring to class, tearing her dress, covering herself in mud, and having to be rescued by her friend’s older brother. Sophie Gilbert, The Atlantic, 30 Mar. 2021 With a birdlike arrangement, in contrast, the chest would have to be so large as to be ungainly. Michael B. Habib, Scientific American, 17 Mar. 2021

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

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The first known use of ungainly was in 1611

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Last Updated

19 Jun 2021

Cite this Entry

“Ungainly.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/ungainly. Accessed 22 Jun. 2021.

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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 How to pronounce ungainly (audio) \
ungainlier; ungainliest

Kids Definition of ungainly

: clumsy sense 1, awkward an ungainly walk

More from Merriam-Webster on ungainly

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for ungainly

Nglish: Translation of ungainly for Spanish Speakers


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