doc·​ile ˈdä-səl How to pronounce docile (audio)
 also  -ˌsī(-ə)l,
 especially British  ˈdō-ˌsī(-ə)l
: easily taught
a docile pupil
: easily led or managed : tractable
a docile pony
docilely adverb
docility noun

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Ready to learn the origin of docile?

Docile students have always made teaching easier than it otherwise would be. Today calling students "docile" indicates that they aren't trouble-makers, but there's more than just good behavior connecting docility to teachability. The original meaning of docile is more to the point: "readily absorbing something taught." "The docile mind may soon thy precepts know," rendered Ben Jonson, for example, in a 17th-century translation of the Roman poet Horace. Docile comes from the Latin verb docēre, which means "to teach." Other descendants of docēre include doctrine (which can mean "something that is taught"), document (an early meaning of which was "instruction"), and doctor and docent (both of which can refer to teachers).

Choose the Right Synonym for docile

obedient, docile, tractable, amenable mean submissive to the will of another.

obedient implies compliance with the demands or requests of one in authority.

obedient to the government

docile implies a predisposition to submit readily to control or guidance.

a docile child

tractable suggests having a character that permits easy handling or managing.

tractable animals

amenable suggests a willingness to yield or cooperate because of a desire to be agreeable or because of a natural open-mindedness.

amenable to new ideas

Examples of docile in a Sentence

In the course of a single month, from Annie's arrival to her triumph in bridling the household despot, Helen [Keller] had grown docile, affectionate, and tirelessly intent on learning from moment to moment. Cynthia Ozick, New Yorker, 16 & 23 June 2003
Africanized honeybees look like the European honeybees now commonly found in our gardens, and like their relatives, they make honey. They are fairly docile when they are foraging, but they defend their nests ferociously. Lynn Ocone, Sunset, February 1994
His students were docile and eager to learn. a docile young pony that went wherever it was led
Recent Examples on the Web Today, Thomas Creech is a mostly quiet, docile man and not the murderous myth he’s been made out to be for decades, Creech’s attorneys with the nonprofit Federal Defender Services of Idaho said. Kevin Fixler, Idaho Statesman, 15 Feb. 2024 The hypocrisy cuts across all sectors — from large employers to households happy to find a low-price, docile roofing or driveway contractor while tut-tutting about illegals. Edward Lotterman, Twin Cities, 14 Jan. 2024 Whale sharks are known for their docile nature, often allowing researchers, divers, and snorkelers to swim right up next to them. Jake Parks, Discover Magazine, 8 Jan. 2024 Corley said the photo of the deer also worried officials because docile deer can turn aggressive during mating season. Kimberlee Speakman, Peoplemag, 10 Oct. 2023 For China, the attention granted to Honduras — long among the most docile of U.S. regional partners — was both payment and propaganda. Karen Deyoung, Washington Post, 2 Oct. 2023 The Outback's suspension provides a docile ride, and its steering is accurate and easy to manage on the highway. Drew Dorian, Car and Driver, 5 June 2023 One resident said her young children believe the docile animals are Santa’s reindeer. Soumya Karlamangla Sinna Nasseri, New York Times, 2 Dec. 2023 The snakes are kept as pets because of their docile attitudes, their unique color patterns, smaller size, and manageable care, according to Reptiles Magazine. Elizabeth Gamillo, Discover Magazine, 30 Nov. 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'docile.' 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 docilis, from docēre to teach; akin to Latin decēre to be fitting — more at decent

First Known Use

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

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


Dictionary Entries Near docile

Cite this Entry

“Docile.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 22 Feb. 2024.

Kids Definition


doc·​ile ˈdäs-əl How to pronounce docile (audio)
: easily taught, led, or managed
a docile pet
docilely adverb
docility noun

from Latin docilis "easily taught," from docēre "to teach" — related to doctor, doctrine

More from Merriam-Webster on docile

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