ca·​price kə-ˈprēs How to pronounce caprice (audio)
: a sudden, impulsive, and seemingly unmotivated notion or action
policy changes that seem to be motivated by nothing more than caprice
: a sudden usually unpredictable condition, change, or series of changes
the caprices of the weather
: a disposition to do things impulsively
a preference for democratic endeavor over authoritarian caprice
Choose the Right Synonym for caprice

caprice, whim, vagary, crotchet mean an irrational or unpredictable idea or desire.

caprice stresses lack of apparent motivation and suggests willfulness.

by sheer caprice she quit her job

whim implies a fantastic, capricious turn of mind or inclination.

an odd antique that was bought on a whim

vagary stresses the erratic, irresponsible character of the notion or desire.

he had been prone to strange vagaries

crotchet implies an eccentric opinion or preference.

a serious scientist equally known for his bizarre crotchets

Examples of caprice in a Sentence

… Montana's "Durum Triangle," where the caprice of microclimates has led farmers to complain not of floods but of drought. Florence Williams, New Republic, 16 Aug. 1999
But Castro has his army and his secret police and a reputation for ferocious caprice, and so he can make a whole people dance to his dementias. Jack Beatty, Atlantic, January 1987
I'm allowing about ten days between here and the U.S.A. (that may be too much or too little, depending on the caprice of the Italian mails). James Wright, letter, 28 May 1979
the caprices of the weather Employees have complained of being at the mercy of the manager's every whim and caprice. policy changes that seem to be motivated by nothing more than caprice See More
Recent Examples on the Web East German citizens may have been expected to embrace the West, but many people who had enjoyed secure employment suddenly found their skills harshly subjected to the caprices of the marketplace. Rebecca Mead, The New Yorker, 27 Nov. 2023 Walks outside, even just to the walled-in courtyard, are granted or withheld with similar caprice. Joshua Yaffa, The New Yorker, 16 Oct. 2023 This is true, few citizens of a democracy retaining the popular favor, without making a sacrifice of those principles, which conflict with popular caprices. Jay Nordlinger, National Review, 9 Oct. 2023 Only humans, in all our caprice, grounded in all of our competing and cooperating supply centers, decide which games are worth playing and how to play them—and why. WIRED, 26 Sep. 2023 Vogue did have artists capture the sartorial caprices of cafe society back in the day; these drawings usually illustrated points made in the accompanying text. Laird Borrelli-Persson, Vogue, 20 Sep. 2023 The government is now reliant on him, but struggles to respond to his risk-taking, brinkmanship, and caprice. Ronan Farrow, The New Yorker, 21 Aug. 2023 Even very hard launches produce no directional caprice, because the car's standard traction-control system activates a limited-slip differential, balancing front-wheel grip. Barry Winfield, Car and Driver, 16 Aug. 2023 The detailed liner notes in an accompanying handbook mixed scholarly precision with deadpan humor and strange caprice. Timothy Farrington, WSJ, 11 Aug. 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'caprice.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


borrowed from French, going back to Middle French, borrowed from Italian capriccio "whim, fancy," earlier and medieval Tuscan caporiccio "bristling of the hair with fear, shiver of horror, shudder," probably from capo "head" (going back to Vulgar Latin *capum, re-formation of Latin caput "head") + riccio "hedgehog," going back to Latin ērīcius — more at head entry 1, urchin

Note: Italian capriccio has been a word of disputed origin, the principle issue being the peculiar semantic shift from "shiver of horror"—a meaning easily explicable from the compound's bases "head" and "hedgehog"—to "whim, caprice," and hence to various further senses. On these grounds M. Cortelazzo and P. Zolli (Dizionario etimologico della lingua italiana) consider the entire etymology uncertain, and speculate that two etyma of independent origin have somehow converged phonetically. Cortelazzo and Zolli state that the Sienese poet Cecco Angiolieri (died ca. 1312) used caporiccio in the sense "desire, wish" ("desiderio, voglia"), but in the sole occurrence of the word in the sonnets attributed to him, the meaning is actually far from clear. With this use set aside, the sense "whim, fancy" is not attested before the sixteenth century according to the Lessico etimologico italiano (vol. 9, column 1055), when it was borrowed by French. The earlier meaning "shiver of horror," first attested as a translation of Latin horror by the Florentine author Bono Giamboni (died ca. 1292), is apparently rare in Italian after the eighteenth century, but derivatives such as raccapricciarsi "to be horrified," raccapriccio "horror, disgust," are still current. The sense "whim, fancy" has suggested a connection with capra "goat," an animal stereotypically known for its sudden leaps (compare capriole). The lexicographer Francesco Alunno, in Ricchezze della lingua volgare sopra il Boccaccio (1543), notes both meanings of the word without attempting to reconcile them: "And a sudden and unreasoning inclination is called capriccio, such as seems to come in the manner of goats, which all leap if one leaps. Likewise those shudders, shivers of cold that appear at the beginning of a still doubtful fever are called capricci." ("Et Capriccio si chiama un' appetito subito et senza rasone, tale, qual pare che venga alle Capre; che se una salta tutte l'altre saltano. Item Capricci si chiamano quei ribrezzi, griccioli del gielo, che vengono nel principio della febre anchora incerta.") Whatever its etymology, caporiccio/capriccio is likely at least as old as the thirteenth century, given its rich attestation in dialects throughout the Italian peninsula, as documented in Lessico etimologico italiano.

First Known Use

1667, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

Time Traveler
The first known use of caprice was in 1667

Dictionary Entries Near caprice

Cite this Entry

“Caprice.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 1 Mar. 2024.

Kids Definition


ca·​price kə-ˈprēs How to pronounce caprice (audio)
: a sudden change in feeling, opinion, or action
: a disposition to change one's mind suddenly

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