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 Almost Home, and Boy Meets World before making her film debut as the ungainly yet lovable Tai in 1995’s Clueless. Ej Dickson, Rolling Stone, 11 Oct. 2021 When the novel takes a somewhat ungainly turn into a murder mystery in the later stages, Corey’s good (if occasionally rageful) intentions are pitted against Leonard and Adrian’s off-kilter urges to prove themselves. Washington Post, 4 Oct. 2021 It’s not just the fact of his ungainly exit from royal life, although that has been a wounding process and continues to be one. Guy Martin, Forbes, 1 Oct. 2021 Part of this process for me has involved a careful survey of what is literally on my shelves, which includes an ungainly collection of music housed on old media: vinyl, CDs and cassettes. Howard Fishman, Washington Post, 20 Sep. 2021 An embarrassment to the crown, with her ungainly physical presence making for a too-visible testimony to historical indiscretions, she is dispatched by Eleanor of Aquitaine to be the prioress of an abbey in bleakest, dampest England. Sophie Gilbert, The Atlantic, 7 Sep. 2021 The queen is sending Marie—an ungainly girl with large bones, and an illegitimate Plantagenet child to boot—to a far-off and troubled abbey, where Marie will become prioress. Stephanie Zacharek, Time, 2 Sep. 2021 The grandmother carves wooden animals and scatters them around the forest, to be absorbed into its dark corners, and leads her young charge on an expedition to snoop around a neighbor’s ungainly new house, which blocks their view of the horizon. New York Times, 9 Aug. 2021 The dispute has cast the National Trust as an ungainly participant in an English culture war. Sam Knight, The New Yorker, 16 Aug. 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

17 Oct 2021

Cite this Entry

“Ungainly.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/ungainly. Accessed 27 Oct. 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

Nglish: Translation of ungainly for Spanish Speakers


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