adjective, sur·li·er, sur·li·est.

churlishly rude or bad-tempered: a surly waiter.
unfriendly or hostile; menacingly irritable: a surly old lion.
dark or dismal; menacing; threatening: a surly sky.
Obsolete. lordly; arrogant.

Origin of surly

1560–70; spelling variant of obsolete sirly lordly, arrogant, equivalent to sir + -ly
Related formssur·li·ly, adverbsur·li·ness, nounun·sur·li·ly, adverbun·sur·li·ness, nounun·sur·ly, adjective

Synonym study

Glum, morose, sullen, dour, surly all are adjectives describing a gloomy, unsociable attitude. Glum describes a depressed, spiritless condition or manner, usually temporary rather than habitual: a glum shrug of the shoulders; a glum, hopeless look in his eye. Morose, which adds to glum a sense of bitterness, implies a habitual and pervasive gloominess: a sour, morose manner; morose withdrawal from human contact. Sullen usually implies reluctance or refusal to speak accompanied by glowering looks expressing anger or a sense of injury: a sullen manner, silence, look. Dour refers to a stern and forbidding aspect, stony and unresponsive: dour rejection of friendly overtures. Surly implies gruffness of speech and manner, usually accompanied by an air of injury and ill temper: a surly reply. Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for surlily

Historical Examples of surlily

  • The Russian surlily told the conductor to attend to the wants of the lady.

  • “I am a Christian,” I answered, surlily enough, for I did not like this examination.

    In the Days of Drake

    J. S. Fletcher

  • When he asked them where they were going, they surlily replied that they were going to California.

    The Boy Settlers

    Noah Brooks

  • "It's better than nothing," muttered he, surlily, below his breath.

    Luttrell Of Arran

    Charles James Lever

  • "You can have the bunk beyand," indicated the Rough Red, surlily.

    Blazed Trail Stories

    Stewart Edward White

British Dictionary definitions for surlily


adjective -lier or -liest

sullenly ill-tempered or rude
(of an animal) ill-tempered or refractory
obsolete arrogant
Derived Formssurlily, adverbsurliness, noun

Word Origin for surly

C16: from obsolete sirly haughty; see sir
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 surlily



1560s, "lordly, majestic," alteration of Middle English sirly "lordly, imperious" (14c.), from sir. The meaning "rude, gruff" is first attested 1660s. For sense development, cf. lordly, and German herrisch "domineering, imperious," from Herr "master, lord."

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper