dal·​ly ˈda-lē How to pronounce dally (audio)
dallied; dallying

intransitive verb

: to act playfully
especially : to play amorously
: to deal lightly : toy
accused him of dallying with a serious problem
: to waste time
dallier noun

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The Evolution of Dally

English speakers have been playing with dally since the 14th century. They first started using the word with the meaning "to chat," which was also the meaning of the Anglo-French word from which it was derived, but that meaning fell into disuse. Next, dalliers were amusing themselves by acting playfully with each other especially in amorous and flirtatious ways. Apparently, some dalliers were also a bit derisive, leading dally to mean "to deal with lightly or in a way that is not serious." It didn't take long for the fuddy-duddies to criticize all this play as a waste of time. By the mid-16th century, dally was weighted down with its "to waste time" and "to dawdle" senses.

Choose the Right Synonym for dally

trifle, toy, dally, flirt, coquet mean to deal with or act toward without serious purpose.

trifle may imply playfulness, unconcern, indulgent contempt.

to trifle with a lover's feelings

toy implies acting without full attention or serious exertion of one's powers.

a political novice toying with great issues

dally suggests indulging in thoughts or plans merely as an amusement.

dallying with the idea of building a boat someday

flirt implies an interest or attention that soon passes to another object.

flirted with one fashionable ism after another

coquet implies attracting interest or admiration without serious intention.

companies that coquet with environmentalism solely for public relations

delay, procrastinate, lag, loiter, dawdle, dally mean to move or act slowly so as to fall behind.

delay usually implies a putting off of something (such as a beginning or departure).

we cannot delay any longer

procrastinate implies blameworthy delay especially through laziness or apathy.

procrastinates about making decisions

lag implies failure to maintain a speed set by others.

lagging behind in technology

loiter and dawdle imply delay while in progress, especially in walking, but dawdle more clearly suggests an aimless wasting of time.

loitered at several store windows
children dawdling on their way home from school

dally suggests delay through trifling or vacillation when promptness is necessary.

stop dallying and get to work

Example Sentences

The two of us dallied over our coffee that morning.
Recent Examples on the Web The deadline for submitting ideas for the next set has also been extended until Sept. 1, so don’t dilly-dally with yours. Adam Lashinsky, Fortune, 10 Apr. 2020 Before taking control of the Gaullist party in 1976, Mr. Chirac dallied with the Communist and Socialist Parties. New York Times, 26 Sep. 2019 No unplugged shows for her, no Bon Iver covers or dallying with avant-garde producers: David Guetta and Sia will do, thank you very much. New York Times, 29 Feb. 2020 WikiLeaks has also been accused of serving as a conduit for Russian misinformation, and Assange has alienated some supporters by dallying with populist politicians including Brexit-promoter Nigel Farage. NBC News, 24 Feb. 2020 In an attempt to egg him on through jealousy, Ness herself has been dallying, with unfortunate consequences. Clair Wills, The New York Review of Books, 7 Jan. 2020 Harry Kane scored the crucial goal five minutes from the end after Jack Grealish was caught dallying on the ball, and the Villa captain was punished by the clinical striker. SI.com, 10 Aug. 2019 Enough dilly dallying, when are the Broncos going to put in Drew Lock as their starting quarterback? Ryan O’halloran, The Denver Post, 26 Nov. 2019 Books are meant to be long, dallying detours into other worlds. BostonGlobe.com, 12 Sep. 2019 See More

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

Word History


Middle English dalyen, from Anglo-French dalier

First Known Use

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

Time Traveler
The first known use of dally was in the 15th century


Dictionary Entries Near dally

Cite this Entry

“Dally.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/dally. Accessed 5 Dec. 2022.

Kids Definition



dal·​ly ˈdal-ē How to pronounce dally (audio)
dallied; dallying
: to act playfully : trifle
: to waste time
dally at one's work
: linger sense 1, dawdle
dally on the way home
dallier noun

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