1 of 2


re·​coil ri-ˈkȯi(-ə)l How to pronounce recoil (audio)
recoiled; recoiling; recoils

intransitive verb

: to fall back under pressure
: to shrink back physically or emotionally
: to spring back to or as if to a starting point : rebound
obsolete : degenerate


2 of 2


re·​coil ˈrē-ˌkȯi(-ə)l How to pronounce recoil (audio)
: the act or action of recoiling
especially : the kickback of a gun upon firing
: reaction
the recoil from the rigors of CalvinismEdmund Wilson
Choose the Right Synonym for recoil

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 recoil in a Sentence

Verb We recoiled in horror at the sight of his wounded arm. He recoiled from her touch. The rifle recoiled and bruised my shoulder. Noun The gun has a sharp recoil.
Recent Examples on the Web
Sapolsky is one of many who recoil from this impulse. Kieran Setiya, The Atlantic, 3 Nov. 2023 Investors recoiled at the news, sending the stock plummeting 19% and handing Zaslav his worst trading day in two years. Christiaan Hetzner, Fortune, 9 Nov. 2023 The marketing guy recoiled and said the figure was way too high and in no way could it be justified. Lily Moayeri, Spin, 5 Oct. 2023 The force of the shot pushes the cannon back about two feet into the dirt, despite equipment that mitigates recoil. Hope Hodge Seck, Popular Mechanics, 21 Aug. 2023 Mark Kelly As the world recoils from the horrors Hamas has inflicted on Israel, India’s left-of-center opposition Congress Party offers a valuable lesson in how not to respond to Islamist terrorism. Sadanand Dhume, WSJ, 11 Oct. 2023 Many people recoil at the notion of solar geoengineering, or solar radiation management (SRM), as it's often called. Douglas Fox, Scientific American, 19 Sep. 2023 Every post–Cold War president has recoiled from this role. Matthew Gavin Frank, Harper's Magazine, 3 May 2023 And in recent months Beijing has been at pains to frame itself as a proponent of peace in the conflict in Ukraine – part of a bid to win back lost goodwill in Europe, which has recoiled over Beijing’s decision to continue to strengthen its ties with Russia despite its war. Simone McCarthy, CNN, 15 Sep. 2023
Long enough for the rifle’s recoil to dissipate and for his watchful eye to readjust in the scope, framing the show of his own violence. Thomas Gibbons-Neff, New York Times, 21 Oct. 2023 As the Korean War began, the M1, which was made of wood and steel and weighed almost ten pounds, was proving to be an insufficient weapon for modern warfare, heavy and cumbersome and with a shoulder-knocking recoil. Emily Witt, The New Yorker, 27 Sep. 2023 The ideal dove gun for most people is probably a 20-gauge gas semiauto, a gun that sends enough shot to take doves cleanly to 30 or more yards, and with very little recoil. Phil Bourjaily, Field & Stream, 4 May 2023 One video, with the claws un-deployed, shows an MT-LB roll back several feet from the recoil after discharging its 100-millimeter gun, which is not great for second-round accuracy. Sébastien Roblin, Popular Mechanics, 2 Sep. 2023 The recoil comes in that like, I, my taxpayer money pays for your salary, but hey, go ahead, retire, collect this pension, which is a lot better than my retirement’s ever gonna be based on your last five years of service, and then keep going back and doing the same job. Laura Johnston, cleveland, 30 Aug. 2023 Single-shot shotguns are notorious for their recoil, and this gun is no exception. Tony Hansen, Outdoor Life, 22 June 2023 The piercing recoil of the board calls on spectators and competitors eagerly anticipating his mid-air pirouettes and gyrations. Sam Cohn, Baltimore Sun, 17 July 2023 Reduced recoil is likely a significant reason for the .308 Winchester’s reputation for accuracy. Ron Spomer, Outdoor Life, 5 July 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'recoil.' 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 reculen, recoilen, from Anglo-French reculer, recuiler, from re- + cul backside — more at culet

First Known Use


14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a


14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

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

Dictionary Entries Near recoil

Cite this Entry

“Recoil.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 10 Dec. 2023.

Kids Definition


1 of 2 verb
re·​coil ri-ˈkȯi(ə)l How to pronounce recoil (audio)
: to fall back under pressure : retreat
: to shrink back
recoil in horror
: to spring back to or as if to a starting point
the compressed spring recoiled upon release
the big gun recoiled upon firing


2 of 2 noun
re·​coil ˈrē-ˌkȯil How to pronounce recoil (audio)
: the act or action of recoiling
: the distance through which something (as a spring) recoils

More from Merriam-Webster on recoil

Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
Love words? Need even more definitions?

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