verb (used without object)

verb (used with object)

to stretch out (the limbs) as in sprawling.
to spread out or distribute in a straggling manner.


the act or an instance of sprawling; a sprawling posture.
a straggling array of something.

Origin of sprawl

before 1000; Middle English spraulen to move awkwardly, Old English spreawlian; cognate with Frisian (N dial.) spraweli
Related formssprawl·er, nounsprawl·ing·ly, adverb

Synonyms for sprawl

Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for sprawl

Contemporary Examples of sprawl

Historical Examples of sprawl

  • I can sprawl on that seaweed and be as comfortable as a gull on a clam flat.

    Fair Harbor

    Joseph Crosby Lincoln

  • Once aboard, he fell in a sprawl on the boat's bottom, breathing heavily.

  • We'd go a few steps, y'u know, 'n' then sprawl all over oursel's.

  • They wander about and sprawl in the shade of fine old trees.

    Little Tony of Italy

    Madeline Brandeis

  • Keep your horse well in hand all through, that he may not sprawl.

    Riding for Ladies

    Mrs. Power O'Donoghue

British Dictionary definitions for sprawl



(intr) to sit or lie in an ungainly manner with one's limbs spread out
to fall down or knock down with the limbs spread out in an ungainly way
to spread out or cause to spread out in a straggling fashionhis handwriting sprawled all over the paper


the act or an instance of sprawling
a sprawling posture or arrangement of items
  1. the urban area formed by the expansion of a town or city into surrounding countrysidethe urban sprawl
  2. the process by which this has happened
Derived Formssprawler, nounsprawly, adjective

Word Origin for sprawl

Old English spreawlian; related to Old English spryttan to sprout, spurt, Greek speirein to scatter
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for sprawl

Old English spreawlian "move convulsively," with cognates in the Scandinavian languages and North Frisian spraweli, probably ultimately from PIE root *sper- "to strew" (see sprout (v.)). Meaning "to spread or stretch in a careless manner" is attested from 1540s; of things, from 1745. Related: Sprawled; sprawling.


1719, from sprawl (v.); meaning "straggling expansion of built-up districts into surrounding countryside" is from 1955.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper