Word Confusion: Surely versus Surly

Posted September 15, 2014 by Kathy Davie in Author Resources, Editing, Self-Editing, Word Confusions, Writing

Surely, she’s a surly woman when she encounters a surely man who is surly running fast. Aye, ’tis indeed a gruesome sight and a horrible sound, lol. And shocking how one teeny letter can make such a difference!

Word Confusions…

…started as my way of dealing with a professional frustration with properly spelled words that were out of context in manuscripts I was editing as well as books I was reviewing. It evolved into a sharing of information with y’all. I’m hoping you’ll share with us words that have been a bête noir for you from either end.

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Surely Surly
Credit to: Apple Dictionary.com

This quote from Airplane is one of the top 100 quotes from the movies:

Striker: “Surely you can’t be serious?”

Rumack: “I am serious. And don’t call me Shirley.”

Image by Clark, John Cosmo [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The top two men look rather surly.

Part of Grammar:
Adverb Adjective
A more formal usage than sure

Emphasizes the speaker’s firm belief that what they are saying is true and often their surprise that there is any doubt of this

Without a doubt, certainly

With assurance or confidence



  • [Of an animal] Ill-tempered or refractory


[Obsolete] Arrogant

Surely you see that this is true!

Surely you jest!

Slowly but surely the battleship overhauled the merchant freighter.

If there is no will, then surely the house goes automatically to you.

He would surely die if he did not heed the warning.

You’ll wait for me? Surely.

He’s a surly cuss!

He left with a surly expression.

It was a surly brunet who gave the game away.

There were enough times when he got so surly and snarky that I knew enough to be wary.

The factory owner was a surly brute of whom his employees kept their eyes downcast.

Adjective: sure Adjective: surlier, surliest, unsurly
Adverb: surlily, unsurlily
Noun: surliness, unsurliness
History of the Word:
1300-50; Middle English surliche. Mid-16th century in the sense of lordly, haughty, or arrogant. It is an alteration of the obsolete sirly.

C’mon, get it out of your system, bitch, whine, moan…which words are your pet peeves?

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