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verb (used without object)
  1. to be stretched or spread out in an unnatural or ungraceful manner: The puppy's legs sprawled in all directions.
  2. to sit or lie in a relaxed position with the limbs spread out carelessly or ungracefully: He sprawled across the bed.
  3. to spread out, extend, or be distributed in a straggling or irregular manner, as vines, buildings, handwriting, etc.
  4. to crawl awkwardly with the aid of all the limbs; scramble.
verb (used with object)
  1. to stretch out (the limbs) as in sprawling.
  2. to spread out or distribute in a straggling manner.
  1. the act or an instance of sprawling; a sprawling posture.
  2. 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

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Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Examples from the Web for sprawling

Contemporary Examples of sprawling

Historical Examples of sprawling

  • I saw you sprawling on the floor, and blood gushing from your nostrils.

    Joseph Andrews Vol. 1

    Henry Fielding

  • I sprang for the door, but the fire-log sent me sprawling with my shoulder on the threshold.

    The Cavalier

    George Washington Cable

  • The master with his toe helped one sprawling puppy toward him.

    White Fang

    Jack London

  • "Quite an ovation," she cried, sprawling out of her first-class carriage.

  • In her big, sprawling handwriting the letter covered eight pages.

    The Wall Street Girl

    Frederick Orin Bartlett

British Dictionary definitions for sprawling


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



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