ca·​pri·​cious | \ kə-ˈpri-shəs How to pronounce capricious (audio) , -ˈprē- How to pronounce capricious (audio) \

Essential Meaning of capricious

1 : changing often and quickly capricious weather/winds especially : often changing suddenly in mood or behavior employees who are at the mercy of a capricious manager
2 : not logical or reasonable : based on an idea, desire, etc., that is not possible to predict The court ruled that the punishment was arbitrary and capricious.

Full Definition of capricious

: governed or characterized by caprice : impulsive, unpredictable

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Other Words from capricious

capriciously adverb
capriciousness noun

Choose the Right Synonym for capricious

inconstant, fickle, capricious, mercurial, unstable mean lacking firmness or steadiness (as in purpose or devotion). inconstant implies an incapacity for steadiness and an inherent tendency to change. an inconstant friend fickle suggests unreliability because of perverse changeability and incapacity for steadfastness. performers discover how fickle fans can be capricious suggests motivation by sudden whim or fancy and stresses unpredictability. an utterly capricious critic mercurial implies a rapid changeability in mood. made anxious by her boss's mercurial temperament unstable implies an incapacity for remaining in a fixed position or steady course and applies especially to a lack of emotional balance. too unstable to hold a job

How long has caprice appeared in English?

The noun caprice, which first appeared in English in the mid-17th century, is a synonym of whim. Evidence shows that the adjective capricious debuted about sixty years before caprice; it's likely, however, that both words derived via French from the Italian capriccio, which originally referred not to a sudden desire but to a sudden shudder of fear. Capriccio in turn derives from the Italian capo, meaning "head," and riccio, the word for "hedgehog." Someone who shuddered in fear, therefore, was said to have a "hedgehog head"-meaning that his or her hair stood on end like the spines of a hedgehog.

Examples of capricious in a Sentence

… every balloon voyage is a race between capricious winds and the amount of fuel on board. — Tom Morganthau, Newsweek, 29 Mar. 1999 She is capricious, however, and is said to take bribes and wantonly peddle her influence from time to time. — Hunter S. Thompson, Rolling Stone, 15 Dec. 1994 Lady Luck is a capricious mother who, as in a recurrent nightmare, always offers, never comes through, and never stops smiling. — Hugh Drummond, Boston Magazine, November 1989 I don't believe in random occurrences or blind chance, though I know the patterns of this world are capricious and terribly complex. — Leslie Marmon Silko, letter, 21 Aug. 1979 employees who are at the mercy of a capricious manager The court ruled that the punishment was arbitrary and capricious.
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Recent Examples on the Web Xiaomi had argued, successfully, that the ban was arbitrary and capricious and on shaky ground because the Pentagon failed to prove Xiaomi’s affiliation with the People’s Liberation Army or with the defense-industrial base of the People’s Republic. Jimmy Quinn, National Review, 22 Sep. 2021 Texas maintained that the administration's enforcement memo setting up a priority system was arbitrary and capricious. Priscilla Alvarez, CNN, 15 Sep. 2021 To those who are frustrated with the transparently capricious behavior of the social-media giants and others, the pair’s argument may seem like a plausible and attractive option. Charles C. W. Cooke, National Review, 2 Aug. 2021 Liberals cheered that ruling, which held that the rescission was arbitrary and capricious under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) because Trump officials had not sufficiently considered the effects or alternatives. The Editorial Board, WSJ, 25 Aug. 2021 The judge also noted the dramatic increase in border apprehensions since the policy was wound down and ruled that the reversal was arbitrary and capricious. Adam Shaw, Fox News, 25 Aug. 2021 Rather, complaints have centered on the way they were imposed, with official edicts viewed as capricious or baffling that critics say have failed to insulate the country from further economic harm. Washington Post, 12 May 2021 Yet in countries as capricious and dictatorial as Nigeria and Uganda, even subtle adjustments like these can backfire. Odanga Madung, Wired, 25 June 2021 But so much about it remains opaque, which lends an air of mystery and romance to a world where values and profits can rely on something as capricious as a fleeting consensus on genius. New York Times, 19 June 2021

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'capricious.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of capricious

1601, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for capricious

see caprice

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Time Traveler for capricious

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The first known use of capricious was in 1601

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Last Updated

15 Oct 2021

Cite this Entry

“Capricious.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 24 Oct. 2021.

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More Definitions for capricious


ca·​pri·​cious | \ kə-ˈpri-shəs How to pronounce capricious (audio) \

Kids Definition of capricious

1 : moved or controlled by a sudden desire a capricious shopper
2 : likely to change suddenly capricious weather

Other Words from capricious

capriciously adverb


ca·​pri·​cious | \ kə-ˈpri-shəs, -ˈprē- How to pronounce capricious (audio) \

Legal Definition of capricious

1 : governed or characterized by impulse or whim: as
a : lacking a rational basis
b : likely to change suddenly
2 : not supported by the weight of evidence or established rules of law often used in the phrase arbitrary and capricious

Other Words from capricious

capriciously adverb
capriciousness noun

More from Merriam-Webster on capricious

Nglish: Translation of capricious for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of capricious for Arabic Speakers


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