Curly-leaf pondweed is a rhizomatous perennial herb producing a flattened, branching stem up to a meter long. The leaves are linear or oblong in shape. Only submerged leaves are produced, which are sessile, linear or oblong in shape, 25–95 mm long and 5–12 mm wide. The leaves may be bright green, olive green or (especially later in the season) brownish and have noticeably serrated margins, a feature that distinguishes them from other pondweeds. The leaves usually have wavy edges but this is not always apparent, especially on new growth. Turions occur in leaf axils and at stem tips.
The inflorescence is a short spike of flowers emerging above the water surface. It flowers from May until October.