adjective, un·ru·li·er, un·ru·li·est.

not submissive or conforming to rule; ungovernable; turbulent; intractable; refractory; lawless: an unruly class; an unruly wilderness.

Origin of unruly

1350–1400; Middle English unruely, equivalent to un- un-1 + ruly, ruely governable, controllable; see rule, -y1
Related formsun·ru·li·ness, noun

Synonyms for unruly

disobedient, unmanageable, uncontrollable, stubborn, disorderly, riotous. Unruly, intractable, recalcitrant, refractory describe persons or things that resist management or control. Unruly suggests persistently disorderly behavior or character in persons or things: an unruly child, peevish and willful; wild, unruly hair. Intractable suggests in persons a determined resistance to all attempts to guide or direct them, in things a refusal to respond to attempts to shape, improve, or modify them: an intractable social rebel; a seemingly intractable problem in logistics. recalcitrant and refractory imply not only a lack of submissiveness but also an open, often violent, rebellion against authority or direction. Recalcitrant, the stronger of the two terms, suggests a stubborn and absolute noncompliance: a recalcitrant person, openly contemptuous of all authority. Refractory implies active, mulish disobedience, but leaves open the possibility of eventual compliance: refractory students, resisting efforts to interest them in their studies.
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for unruliness

Historical Examples of unruliness

  • So did a child, threatened for his unruliness with the revelation of the man with two heads.

    The Children

    Alice Meynell

  • Unruliness must have been tamed and regular attention secured.

    Outlines of Educational Doctrine

    John Frederick Herbart

  • He had shut his eyes to the man's unruliness and his daughter's intervention to free him; but now he was without pity.

  • A spirit of unruliness diffused itself among us and, under its influence, differences of culture and constitution were waived.


    James Joyce

  • For the first few days of our journey, we suffered greatly from the unruliness of the camels.

    Southern Arabia

    Theodore Bent

British Dictionary definitions for unruliness


adjective -lier or -liest

disposed to disobedience or indiscipline
Derived Formsunruliness, 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 unruliness



c.1400, from un- (1) "not" + obsolete ruly "amenable to rule." Related: Unruliness.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper