adjective, thorn·i·er, thorn·i·est.

abounding in or characterized by thorns; spiny; prickly.
overgrown with thorns or brambles.
painful; vexatious: a thorny predicament.
full of difficulties, complexities, or controversial points: a thorny question.

Origin of thorny

before 1000; Middle English; Old English thornig. See thorn, -y1
Related formsthorn·i·ly, adverbthorn·i·ness, nounun·thorn·y, adjective

Synonyms for thorny

5. tough, sticky, ticklish, perplexing. Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

British Dictionary definitions for thorny


adjective thornier or thorniest

bearing or covered with thorns
difficult or unpleasanta thorny problem
Derived Formsthornily, adverbthorniness, noun
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 thorny

Old English þornig; see thorn + -y (2). Figurative sense is attested from mid-14c. Related: Thorniness.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper