1 of 2


plural quail or quails
: any of numerous small gallinaceous birds: such as
: an Old World migratory game bird (Coturnix coturnix)

Illustration of quail

Illustration of quail


2 of 2


quailed; quailing; quails

intransitive verb

chiefly dialectal : wither, decline
: to give way : falter
his courage never quailed
: to recoil in dread or terror : cower
the strongest quail before financial ruinSamuel Butler †1902

transitive verb

archaic : to make fearful

Did you know?

Flinch, recoil, and wince are all synonyms of quail, but each word has a slightly different use. When you flinch, you fail to endure pain or to face something dangerous or frightening with resolution ("she faced her accusers without flinching"). Recoil implies a start or movement away from something through shock, fear, or disgust ("he recoiled at the suggestion of stealing"). Wince usually suggests a slight involuntary physical reaction to something ("she winced as the bright light suddenly hit her eyes"). Quail implies shrinking and cowering in fear ("he quailed before the apparition").

Choose the Right Synonym for quail

recoil, shrink, flinch, wince, blench, quail mean to draw back in fear or distaste.

recoil implies a start or movement away through shock, fear, or disgust.

recoiled at the suggestion of stealing

shrink suggests an instinctive recoil through sensitiveness, scrupulousness, or cowardice.

shrank from the unpleasant truth

flinch implies a failure to endure pain or face something dangerous or frightening with resolution.

faced her accusers without flinching

wince suggests a slight involuntary physical reaction (such as a start or recoiling).

winced in pain

blench implies fainthearted flinching.

stood their ground without blenching

quail suggests shrinking and cowering in fear.

quailed before the apparition

Examples of quail in a Sentence

Noun We had quail for dinner. Verb Other politicians quailed before him. He quailed at the thought of seeing her again.
Recent Examples on the Web
On the larger side, there’s BBQ quail that’s dried for four days before being skewered and grilled yakitori-style. Tori Latham, Robb Report, 3 May 2024 There are homemade cookies, pastries and fudge, pickled quail eggs, candied jalapenos, barbecue spices and sauces, and walls of beef jerky and candy. Catherine Muccigrosso, Charlotte Observer, 17 Apr. 2024 Its shape was supposed to protect quail from getting smothered in corners of a traditional barn. San Diego Union-Tribune, 4 Oct. 2023 Health inspectors observed raw shrimp, raw beef and quail eggs being stored at improper holding temperatures and beef being thawed under a hand sink. Jacqueline Pinedo, Sacramento Bee, 3 Apr. 2024 Seed feeders will attract doves, finches, scrub jays, California and spotted towhees, quail and lesser goldfinch. Ernie Cowan, San Diego Union-Tribune, 31 Mar. 2024 In north Texas, this means temporary hell for upland birds, particularly wild quail. Katie Hill, Outdoor Life, 7 Mar. 2024 All but a few dishes — cumin lamb and quail claypot — are small plates. Tom Sietsema, Washington Post, 1 Mar. 2024 Whether 2015 was an aberration or a true sign that quail are coming back remains to be seen. Brent Frazee, Kansas City Star, 31 Jan. 2024
Modern agricultural practices have eliminated many of the weeds that quail thrive on. Brent Frazee, Kansas City Star, 31 Jan. 2024 Biologists, wildlife authorities and hunters share ideas on how to bring the pheasants and quail back. Brent Frazee, Kansas City Star, 31 Jan. 2024 Some of these a la carte dishes are king crab and sunfish egg roll; quail with tangering and pepper sauce; local fish with banana curry; A5 Wagyu with short grain rice; and squid with sunflower and rayu sauce. Pam Kragen, San Diego Union-Tribune, 12 Jan. 2024 Dishes range from zucchini salad to quail in plum sauce. Naomi Tomky, Travel + Leisure, 10 July 2023 Or quail eggs from Smyth and the Loyalist (Karen Urie Shields, its co-owner, graduated from Johnson & Wales University). Alexa Gagosz, BostonGlobe.com, 19 June 2023 The lines echoed the Exodus story, how the Lord saved the Israelites in the desert by sending them quail and manna from heaven. Fred Bahnson, Harper's Magazine, 1 July 2022 Attach tart tins, moss, and quail eggs with hot-glue. Charlyne Mattox, Country Living, 30 Mar. 2023 Odysseus’s knees went slack then and the heart within him quailed. Homer, The New York Review of Books, 30 Mar. 2023

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

Word History



Middle English quaile, from Anglo-French, from Medieval Latin quaccula, of imitative origin


Middle English, from Middle Dutch quelen

First Known Use


14th century, in the meaning defined above


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

Time Traveler
The first known use of quail was in the 14th century


Dictionary Entries Near quail

Cite this Entry

“Quail.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/quail. Accessed 26 May. 2024.

Kids Definition


1 of 2 noun
plural quail or quails
: any of various mostly small plump game birds (as the bobwhite) that are related to the common domestic chicken


2 of 2 verb
: to lose courage : shrink in fear


Middle English quaile "quail (bird)," from early French quaile (same meaning), from Latin quaccula (same meaning), of imitative origin


Middle English quailen "to wither, decline," from early Dutch quelen (same meaning)

More from Merriam-Webster on quail

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