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."

Example Sentences

I don't intend to cavil or compromise. A customer caviled about the price.
Recent Examples on the Web However, the actual interiors of this four-bedroom home are nothing to cavil at. Kelly Corbett, House Beautiful, 7 Oct. 2020

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

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 26 Jan. 2023.

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
Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!

The Great British Vocabulary Quiz

  • union jack speech bubble
  • Named after Sir Robert Peel, what are British police called?
Spell It

Hear a word and type it out. How many can you get right?

Solve today's spelling word game by finding as many words as you can with using just 7 letters. Longer words score more points.

Can you make 12 words with 7 letters?