Definition of sprawl in US English:



  • 1no object, with adverbial Sit, lie, or fall with one's arms and legs spread out in an ungainly or awkward way.

    ‘the door shot open, sending him sprawling across the pavement’
    ‘she lay sprawled on the bed’
    • ‘It collapses beneath her weight and she sprawls lifelessly to the floor.’
    • ‘Carol sprawls out on the bed as Simon tears off his cast triumphantly and sketches her, again and again.’
    • ‘To the reader comfortably sprawled before a good fire it may seem a little stagey, as if he was speaking for effect.’
    • ‘I was standing in a forklift with Mark looking down over Mimi sprawled with her face in the snow.’
    • ‘Out on the desert white figures lay sprawled dead and dying.’
    • ‘The brothers sprawled in the annihilating heat under the trees.’
    • ‘The story ends with both lying together sprawled on a bed, as ‘Figures, waiting to be arranged’.’
    • ‘The wheel rolled out from under me and I went sprawling backwards.’
    • ‘Lenny sprawls on a couch, cigarette and scotch close to hand, while Rorem plays through some obscure songs by Paul Bowles.’
    • ‘Mel sprawls off the bed and onto the floor, staring up at me with an expression that says she's hurt, betrayed, and disappointed.’
    • ‘They sprawled together half on the pavement and half in the gutter.’
    • ‘A second corpse already lay sprawled at the policeman's boots.’
    • ‘As she told me this, Eddie sat across the room, sprawled at his father's desk, reading a few pages of my stuff.’
    • ‘The camera drops to the ground, and the cameraman sprawls out onto the ground, blown a few feet backwards.’
    • ‘But on the left the nattily dressed Manet, with hand on his chin and one leg folded under him, sprawls on a sofa.’
    • ‘Jade falls to her knees and sprawls out over the ground next to Mar.’
    • ‘Morvern Callar begins with a young woman waking up to find her lover dead, sprawled on the kitchen floor.’
    • ‘Nearby a drunkard, almost nose-to-nose with a pig, sprawls on the ground.’
    stretch out, lounge, loll, lie, lie down, lie back, recline, drape oneself, be recumbent, be prostrate, be supine, slump, flop, slouch
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    1. 1.1 Spread out over a large area in an untidy or irregular way.
      ‘the town sprawled along several miles of cliff top’
      • ‘The sprawling suburban areas of Kansas City that stretch into both Kansas and Missouri have also made a place for art.’
      • ‘Oslo is a vast city, sprawling up the sides of its bowl from the old Danish centre into the hills and forests of a gentle, though still sometimes almost sublime landscape.’
      • ‘I recently moved from a small Midwestern college town to a sprawling Southern metropolis.’
      • ‘Along with the traffic, a city sprawling in all directions and surrounded by mountains, pollution is visible everyday.’
      • ‘Marnee opened her school in an expanding part of this sprawling town of 91,000 in a building under a looming water tower.’
      • ‘But their forlorn, polished California pop is like the sprawling Valley suburbs: nice enough, if that's your sort of thing.’
      • ‘Rather than simply increasing the efficiency of sprawling suburbs by installing solar panels and using recycled building materials, he advocates dense urban growth that renders cars unnecessary.’
      • ‘As urban areas sprawl into traditionally rural, agricultural areas, land uses are becoming major, sometimes pivotal community issues.’
      • ‘The vast majority live in sprawling towns and cities, and the countryside has been chopped up with thousands of roads.’
      • ‘Claiming that Sarah Ferguson comes from Basingstoke is pushing it: she grew up on the 876-acre family farm at Dummer, safely south of the M3, gentility's bulwark against the town which sprawls along the motorway's north side.’
      • ‘At the museum, the sprawling exhibition claimed large parts of two floors and spilled into the permanent collection elsewhere in the building.’
      • ‘One of the most exclusive properties on the market in Aspen at present is the Elk Run Ranch, which sprawls over 77 acres.’
      • ‘For decades Toronto, Hamilton and the surrounding smaller cities have been sprawling across some of our best farmland.’
      • ‘The towns sprawled out of control, while rural mediocrity fed on itself.’
      • ‘The transparency of the building is intended to change perception of the judicial process; and as a grand civic space, the atrium is significant in a city of sprawling suburbs.’
      • ‘Bill Wilson grew up in East Dorset, a quarry town in southern Vermont, in one of those sprawling New England farmhouses that are so much a part of the American image of familial happiness.’
      • ‘Despite the new and uniform sandstone buildings that sprawl outward, arriving in old Aleppo felt magical.’
      • ‘But this sprawling city of more than 350 square miles (900 square kilometers) has never been known for high-density living.’
      • ‘They are a strange family indeed; living in a sprawling house in the greater area of Maine, this family is busting at the seams with not only children, but also every animal under the sun.’
      • ‘More importantly, he has changed the rural face of his large, sprawling State, once among the most backward areas of the country, by bringing the benefits of the computer within the reach of the rural community.’
      spread, stretch, straggle, ramble, trail, spill
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  • 1usually in singular An ungainly or carelessly relaxed position in which one's arms and legs are spread out.

    ‘she fell into a sort of luxurious sprawl’
    1. 1.1 A group or mass of something that has spread out in an untidy or irregular way.
      ‘a sprawl of buildings’
      • ‘The major inheritance of the Community Councils was vast sprawls of low-quality township housing; rents were a major source of income.’
      • ‘They hurl themselves around in hedonistic spasms, a gangly sprawl of boots, limbs and hair, clad in more skin-tight black than a roomful of rock hacks.’
      • ‘The designer goods are in there, but they must be ferreted out of mass quantities stacked on undifferentiated shelves in an encompassing sprawl.’
      • ‘Tracey and his wife Jackie live in a small flat in St Albans, in a residential sprawl of cul-de-sacs and Barratt homes a world away from the smoky Soho jazz scene they inhabited for so long.’
      • ‘Amid a scruffy sprawl of warehouses and marinas, on a former brownfield site in Tacoma, Washington, sits the sparkling new Museum of Glass.’
      • ‘Long treated as a back, it was full of coal stores and junk, and cluttered with a sprawl of buildings added piecemeal over the years.’
    2. 1.2 The expansion of an urban or industrial area into the adjoining countryside in a way perceived to be disorganized and unattractive.
      ‘the growth of urban sprawl’
      • ‘This way local governments have replaced unplanned sprawl with ‘phased growth.’’
      • ‘It is one of hundreds of historic sites threatened by suburban sprawl.’
      • ‘Albert Markovski is a poet and environmentalist fighting for greenspace against encroaching suburban sprawl.’
      • ‘For example, as suburban sprawl encroaches on farmland, people have more contact with both stable flies and house flies, creating conflict with livestock producers.’
      • ‘Microsoft's ‘Spaces’ brings the concept of incipient suburban sprawl to the blogisphere.’
      • ‘This is not a radical idea, but only seems so in a country single-mindedly dedicated to replicating the economically convenient tropes of suburban sprawl.’
      • ‘Because most of the Intervale lies within the floodplain of the Winooski River, the land here is protected from the usual pressures of suburban sprawl.’
      • ‘Its characters were real, its snapshot of ridiculous suburban sprawl was very real, its depiction of family togetherness, though exaggerated for dramatic effect, was also very real.’
      • ‘Many architecture critics go beyond opinion about the aesthetics of individual buildings, including reporting on sprawl and urban development.’
      • ‘The homogenous and sparse population was replaced by the restless diversity, sprawl and cacophony of one of the fastest growing places in America.’
      • ‘Urban sprawl has been a fact of life for Southern California growers and their cooperatives since the 1950s.’
      • ‘Over the past few decades, rapid regional growth and a culture with a deeply imbued passion for suburban sprawl have taken their toll on downtown Phoenix.’
      • ‘Urban sprawl is taxing the city's infrastructure; local authorities have identified some $3 billion in much-needed transportation improvements.’
      • ‘Compacting urban functions makes the cities more vibrant and protects the outlying areas from sprawl.’
      • ‘Yet it has familiar urban problems - overcrowding, pollution, rotting heritage, tottering transport, suburban sprawl.’
      • ‘They outlined the regional planning model known as the ‘Transect Concept,’ which sets a pattern for ‘smart growth’ without suburban sprawl.’
      • ‘These carefully tended spaces stand in marked contrast to much of the city, whose population has rapidly expanded over the past two decades and which is experiencing unchecked sprawl.’
      • ‘In fact, for all of the debate about growth and sprawl, no one disputes the quality of the amenities that have been built into Highlands Ranch or how attractive those perks are for young families.’
      • ‘Then he condemned sprawl even as he designed bigger and bigger suburban shopping centers.’
      • ‘Urban sprawl and chaos create many planning problems.’


Old English spreawlian ‘move the limbs convulsively’; related to Danish sprælle ‘kick or splash about’. The noun dates from the early 18th century.