ca·​pri·​cious kə-ˈpri-shəs How to pronounce capricious (audio) -ˈprē- How to pronounce capricious (audio)
: governed or characterized by caprice : impulsive, unpredictable
capriciously adverb
capriciousness noun

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How long has caprice appeared in English?

The adjective capricious and its close relation, the noun caprice (a synonym of whim), both derive via French from the Italian capriccio, which originally referred not to a sudden desire but to a sudden shudder of fear. Capriccio, in turn, likely derives from the Italian capo, meaning "head," and riccio, the word for "hedgehog." The implication was that someone who shuddered in fear was said to have a "hedgehog head," meaning that the person's hair stood on end like the spines of a hedgehog.

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

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.
Recent Examples on the Web Lestat’s capricious behavior escalated into what contemporary viewers could easily identify as spousal abuse. Judy Berman, TIME, 1 July 2024 An elegant and provocative account, this slim volume captures the system of arbitrary rules and capricious exemptions on which tyranny, large and small, relies. Loading... Stay informed. Alan Mikhail, Foreign Affairs, 12 Dec. 2023 In addition to political uncertainty, organizers have to deal with the capricious weather. Joelle Diderich, WWD, 24 June 2024 Scientists are now trying out new forecasting methods powered by artificial intelligence that could yield precious lead time ahead of these capricious and deadly storms. Umair Irfan, Vox, 21 June 2024 See all Example Sentences for capricious 

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'capricious.' 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 Middle French capricieux, borrowed from Italian capriccioso, from capriccio caprice + -oso -ous

First Known Use

1601, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of capricious was in 1601

Dictionary Entries Near capricious

Cite this Entry

“Capricious.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 18 Jul. 2024.

Kids Definition


ca·​pri·​cious kə-ˈprish-əs How to pronounce capricious (audio) -ˈprē-shəs How to pronounce capricious (audio)
: moved or controlled by caprice : apt to change suddenly
a capricious child
capricious weather
capriciously adverb
capriciousness noun

Legal Definition


ca·​pri·​cious kə-ˈpri-shəs, -ˈprē- How to pronounce capricious (audio)
: governed or characterized by impulse or whim: as
: lacking a rational basis
: likely to change suddenly
: not supported by the weight of evidence or established rules of law
often used in the phrase arbitrary and capricious
capriciously adverb
capriciousness noun

More from Merriam-Webster on capricious

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