The Meaning of Gnarly: What It Is and How To Use It

Have you ever wondered about the definition of gnarly? This article will provide you with all of the info you need on the word gnarly, including its definition, etymology, usage, example sentences, and more!

Your writing, at its best

Compose bold, clear, mistake-free, writing with Grammarly's AI-powered writing assistant

What does the word gnarly mean?

According to Collins English Dictionary and the American Heritage Unabridged Dictionary of the English language, the word gnarly is an adjective that has a few potential meanings. The adjective gnarly can be used to mean tied up in knots or tangled, gross and covered in knots or knobs like a knobbed stick, as UK and New Zealand slang for good or excellent, or in slang senses like surfers’ slang to mean difficult. Gnarly is two syllables – gnarl-y, and the pronunciation of gnarly is ˈnɑːr-ly.

This term is most commonly associated with US Surf Culture. This US slang has specific usage when it comes to waves on a North Shore or outer islands. Surfers’ slang is also used for other things, like sunblock, sunlight, wigged out dudes, a lame chick, and more. Gnarly is usually used in surfing to refer to a dangerous wave that can cause a daze, i.e. a gnarly wave. This is the most common use. 

Many things can be gnarly, like gnarly waves, gnarly old trees with twisting trunks, an old persons gnarly eyebrows, gnarly humor, gnarly girl rockers like the Runaways, a love of gnarly fuzztones, a gnarly guy, a gnarly violent motion, gnarly cottonwood trees, and more. 

Many different languages also contain words that mean gnarly. You may notice that some of these translations of gnarly look similar to one another. These are called cognates, which are often formed when two words have the same root or language of origin. This list of translations of gnarly is provided by Word Sense

  •   Russian: потряса́ющий‎, круто́й‎, кла́ссный‎, клёвый‎
  •  Czech: hustý‎
  •  Thai: เจ๋ง‎
  •  Mandarin: 棒‎ (bàng), 了不起‎ (liǎobuqǐ), 酷‎ (kù)
  •  Japanese: 素晴らしい‎ (すばらしい, subarashii), 素敵‎ (すてき, suteki), 凄い‎ (すごい, sugoi)
  •  Spanish: asombroso‎, bacán‎
  •  French: génial‎, sensass‎, super‎, mortel‎, chanmé‎
  •  Portuguese: legal‎, da hora‎ (slang), muito louco‎ (slang)
  •  Finnish: siisti‎
  •  German: super‎, genial‎, toll‎, geil‎
  •  Swedish: grym‎, fet‎

What are synonyms and antonyms of the word gnarly?

There are many different words that a person can choose to use in place of the word gnarly. These are called synonyms, which are words that have the same meaning as the word gnarly. Synonyms are useful words to learn if you are trying not to repeat yourself or if you are trying to expand your English language vocabulary. This list of synonyms of gnarly is provided by Power Thesaurus.

  •  risky
  •  knarry
  •  first-class
  •  deluxe
  •  crack
  •  distinctive
  •  smart
  •  enjoyable
  •  perfect
  •  satisfying
  •  knurled
  •  wonderful
  •  praiseworthy
  •  precarious
  •  knotty
  •  knobbly
  •  boss
  •  dandy
  •  prime
  •  gratifying
  •  shipshape
  •  magnificent
  •  high-risk
  •  awesome
  •  acceptable
  •  rad
  •  dicey
  •  tuberous
  •  knobbed
  •  cool
  •  insecure
  •  spanking
  •  distorted
  •  nifty
  •  gnarled
  •  chancy
  •  good-looking
  •  exposed
  •  satisfactory
  •  sterling
  •  marvelous
  •  aces
  •  difficult
  •  beautiful
  •  crooked
  •  reputable
  •  attractive
  •  hazardous
  •  nodular
  •  ace
  •  dodgy
  •  pleasing
  •  positive
  •  swell
  •  fraught with danger
  •  bumpy
  •  dangerous
  •  groovy
  •  neat
  •  agreeable
  •  exceptional
  •  expensive
  •  touch-and-go
  •  contorted
  •  elegant
  •  hairy
  •  choice
  •  excellent
  •  sound
  •  snarled
  •  unpredictable
  •  pleasant
  •  superb
  •  congenial
  •  first-string
  •  perilous
  •  rough
  •  accomplished
  •  twisted
  •  knarred
  •  finest
  •  nubby
  •  lovely
  •  bent
  •  unsafe
  •  knaggy
  •  showy
  •  favorable
  •  first-rate
  •  great
  •  lumpy
  •  knobby
  •  precious
  •  capital
  •  select
  •  three-cornered
  •  splendid
  •  knotted
  •  uncertain
  •  sensational

There are also a number of words that have the opposite meaning as gnarly. These opposite words are called antonyms, which are another great tool used to expand your vocabulary. This list of antonyms of gnarly is also provided by Power Thesaurus

  •  as easy as one-two-three
  •  fat
  •  great
  •  easy as beans
  •  easy as breathing
  •  easy as anything
  •  eellogofusciouhipoppokunurious
  •  as easy as pie
  •  easier than rolling off a log
  •  easy as shelling peas
  •  as easy as beans
  •  extremely easy
  •  easy to do
  •  as safe as houses
  •  safe as houses
  •  just like riding a bicycle
  •  as easy as can be
  •  easy to achieve
  •  safe and sound
  •  easy as shooting fish in a barrel
  •  horrible
  •  as easy as anything
  •  disgusting
  •  just like riding a bike
  •  as easy as falling off a log
  •  easy as one-two-three
  •  as easy as shooting fish in a barrel
  •  can be done with your eyes closed
  •  as easy as winking
  •  easy as rolling off a log
  •  smooth
  •  as easy as abc
  •  highly palatable
  •  shooting fish in a barrel
  •  like falling off a log
  •  bad
  •  can be done with your eyes shut
  •  as easy as taking candy from a baby
  •  easy peasy lemon squeezy
  •  dreadful
  •  appalling
  •  easy as winking
  •  easy as abc
  •  easy peasy japanesey
  •  not good
  •  like shooting fish in a barrel
  •  like riding a bike
  •  easy as can be
  •  easy as pie
  •  straight

How can the word gnarly be used in a sentence?

The word gnarly can be used in many different ways in the English language. This is a great way to learn new words. It is difficult to learn new lingo, but you could also try making a quiz or flashcards to test your knowledge of a vast collection of words. Try using this word of the day in a sentence today! Below are a couple of examples of gnarly to get you started!

The gnarly mold had been growing in the Princeton University dorm since the 1970s and no one had ever fixed it. 

The gnarly wave crashed to the right of the station in October. They were lucky it did not collapse. 

Overall, the word gnarly means a variety of things. The usage of the internet slang word or teen slang gnarly is most often to mean cool. Try using this word of the day in a sentence today! Since it has numerous different possible meanings, make sure that your context is clear when using this new word in a sentence. 


  1. gnarly: meaning, origin, translation | Word Sense 
  2. Gnarly synonyms – 473 Words and Phrases for Gnarly | Power Thesaurus 
  3. Gnarly antonyms – 73 Opposites of Gnarly | Power Thesaurus 
  4. Gnarly definition and meaning | Collins English Dictionary