un·​ruly ˌən-ˈrü-lē How to pronounce unruly (audio)
unrulier; unruliest
: not readily ruled, disciplined, or managed
an unruly crowd
a mane of unruly hair
unruliness noun
Choose the Right Synonym for unruly

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 unruly in a Sentence

unruly pupils were given detention as a matter of course a camp that was known as a place where unruly youths were given their last chance to shape up
Recent Examples on the Web This year, however, an unruly crowd caused enough concern over public safety that police shut down the event and town leaders canceled the festivities indefinitely. Stephen Sorace, Fox News, 5 June 2024 In the years before Kirkland, Costco’s private label items were divided among an unruly assortment of 30 different store brand names like Simply Soda or Chelsea toilet paper. Phil Wahba, Fortune, 4 June 2024 By Koh Ewe May 28, 2024 5:00 AM EDT Locals in a Japanese town frustrated by overtourism had a plan to keep unruly sightseers away, but people are already poking holes in it. Koh Ewe, TIME, 28 May 2024 The more severe kind is a federal anti-terrorism program, while the less severe type is maintained by individual airlines for unruly passengers. Stefanie Waldek, Travel + Leisure, 26 May 2024 See all Example Sentences for unruly 

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

Word History


Middle English unreuly, from un- + reuly disciplined, from reule rule

First Known Use

15th century, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of unruly was in the 15th century

Dictionary Entries Near unruly

Cite this Entry

“Unruly.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/unruly. Accessed 20 Jun. 2024.

Kids Definition


un·​ruly ˌən-ˈrü-lē How to pronounce unruly (audio)
unrulier; unruliest
: not yielding easily to rule or restriction : uncontrollable
an unruly temper
an unruly horse

More from Merriam-Webster on unruly

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