cav·​il ˈka-vəl How to pronounce cavil (audio)
caviled or cavilled; caviling or cavilling ˈka-və-liŋ How to pronounce cavil (audio)

intransitive verb

: to raise trivial and frivolous objection
The author caviled about the design of the book's cover.

transitive verb

: to raise trivial objections to
He caviled the conditions of the agreement.
cavil noun
caviler noun
or caviller
ˈka-və-lər How to pronounce cavil (audio)

Did you know?

You must be joking! That's just one of the things you might be tempted to exclaim if you found yourself quarreling with a caviler—and you'd be right, etymologically speaking at least. Cavil derives from the Latin verb cavillari, meaning "to jest" or "to raise silly objections," which in turn derives from the Latin noun cavilla, meaning "raillery." In case you're wondering, "cavil" is not related to the adjective "cavalier" ("marked by or given to offhand and often disdainful dismissal of important matters"). "Cavalier," which is also a noun for a gentleman trained in arms and horsemanship, traces back via Middle French to the Late Latin caballarius, meaning "horseman."

Examples of cavil in a Sentence

I don't intend to cavil or compromise. A customer caviled about the price.
Recent Examples on the Web Naysayers often cavil that California’s economic growth depends almost entirely on Silicon Valley and the capital gains income of its wealthiest residents, but its primacy in high technology encompasses fields outside Northern California, such as biotech. Michael Hiltzik, Los Angeles Times, 10 May 2021 However, the actual interiors of this four-bedroom home are nothing to cavil at. Kelly Corbett, House Beautiful, 7 Oct. 2020

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

Word History


Latin cavillari to jest, cavil, from cavilla raillery; akin to Latin calvi to deceive — more at calumny

First Known Use

1542, in the meaning defined at intransitive sense

Time Traveler
The first known use of cavil was in 1542


Dictionary Entries Near cavil

Cite this Entry

“Cavil.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 23 Feb. 2024.

Kids Definition


cav·​il ˈkav-əl How to pronounce cavil (audio)
caviled or cavilled; caviling or cavilling -(ə-)liŋ How to pronounce cavil (audio)
: to make objections of little worth or importance : quibble
cavil noun
caviler noun
or caviller
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