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

Example Sentences

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 There will be disagreements, frequently bitter and unruly. Karl Rove, WSJ, 1 Mar. 2023 My brows were wiry and suddenly unruly. Elizabeth Siegel, Allure, 23 Dec. 2022 In a little over a year since Bali reopened for international travel, an uptick in unruly behavior from tourists has removed some of the magic from paradise, pushing national and local officials to think up new ways to address offenders. Gabe Hiatt, Washington Post, 11 Apr. 2023 The crowd became unruly and started throwing rocks and bottles at officers after an arrest was made. Summer Lin, Los Angeles Times, 7 Apr. 2023 Explore4th arrest in 17th Street bridge shootings that killed two youths Investigators previously said a group of teens and children was escorted off the Atlantic Station property Nov. 26 for unruly behavior and violation of the area’s curfew. Alexis Stevens, ajc, 22 Mar. 2023 In 2022, the Federal Aviation Administration received nearly 2,500 reports of unruly passengers and investigated 831. Gabe Ferris, ABC News, 30 Mar. 2023 Will this be the summer of unruly passengers? Christopher Elliott, USA TODAY, 24 Mar. 2023 An individual became unruly when asked to leave and was escorted out of Mr. Sizemore's house. Lynsey Eidell, Peoplemag, 2 Mar. 2023 See More

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 28 May. 2023.

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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