un·​gov·​ern·​able ˌən-ˈgə-vər-nə-bəl How to pronounce ungovernable (audio)
: not capable of being governed, guided, or restrained
Choose the Right Synonym for ungovernable

unruly, ungovernable, intractable, refractory, recalcitrant, willful, headstrong mean not submissive to government or control.

unruly implies lack of discipline or incapacity for discipline and often connotes waywardness or turbulence of behavior.

unruly children

ungovernable implies either an escape from control or guidance or a state of being unsubdued and incapable of controlling oneself or being controlled by others.

ungovernable rage

intractable suggests stubborn resistance to guidance or control.

intractable opponents of the hazardous-waste dump

refractory stresses resistance to attempts to manage or to mold.

special schools for refractory children

recalcitrant suggests determined resistance to or defiance of authority.

acts of sabotage by a recalcitrant populace

willful implies an obstinate determination to have one's own way.

a willful disregard for the rights of others

headstrong suggests self-will impatient of restraint, advice, or suggestion.

a headstrong young cavalry officer

Examples of ungovernable in a Sentence

The people there seemed almost ungovernable. a handful of ungovernable students are disrupting the learning environment for everyone else
Recent Examples on the Web Waymo’s lovable and ungovernable driverless taxis aren’t playing by the rules again in San Francisco. Ryan Erik King / Jalopnik, Quartz, 30 Apr. 2024 Large areas of the north and east of Burkina Faso have become ungovernable since 2018. Nimi Princewill, CNN, 4 Mar. 2024 The Party’s restive far-right flank has already insured that this is basically an ungovernable House. Susan B. Glasser, The New Yorker, 9 Feb. 2024 Rob stars as the whimsical, ungovernable Ellis Dragon, chaotic billionaire founder of a bio tech firm with designs on saving the planet. Dan Snierson, EW.com, 31 Mar. 2023 The party is proving to be ungovernable, and that is wreaking havoc on the country as a whole. Oliver Darcy, CNN, 4 Oct. 2023 The only other scenario is no plan; Gaza descends into a raging competition of ungovernable armed militias—call it the Mogadishu outcome. Dahlia Scheindlin, The New Republic, 3 Nov. 2023 The mutual suspension of judgment was heady, like a jaunt through international waters, some temporarily ungovernable zone. Emma Cline, The New Yorker, 23 Oct. 2023 Proponents of New California, formed in 2018, maintain that old California has become ungovernable and seek to gather much of the rural parts of California, along with San Diego and Orange counties, and form a 51st state. Jessica Garrison, Los Angeles Times, 16 Mar. 2023

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

Word History

First Known Use

1673, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of ungovernable was in 1673

Dictionary Entries Near ungovernable

Cite this Entry

“Ungovernable.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/ungovernable. Accessed 19 May. 2024.

Kids Definition


un·​gov·​ern·​able ˌən-ˈgəv-ər-nə-bəl How to pronounce ungovernable (audio)
: not capable of being governed, guided, or controlled
an ungovernable temper
Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
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