way·​ward ˈwā-wərd How to pronounce wayward (audio)
: following one's own capricious, wanton, or depraved inclinations : ungovernable
a wayward child
: following no clear principle or law : unpredictable
: opposite to what is desired or expected : untoward
wayward fate
waywardly adverb
waywardness noun
Choose the Right Synonym for wayward

contrary, perverse, restive, balky, wayward mean inclined to resist authority or control.

contrary implies a temperamental unwillingness to accept orders or advice.

a contrary child

perverse may imply wrongheaded, determined, or cranky opposition to what is reasonable or normal.

a perverse, intractable critic

restive suggests unwillingness or inability to submit to discipline or follow orders.

tired soldiers growing restive

balky suggests a refusing to proceed in a desired direction or course of action.

a balky witness

wayward suggests strong-willed capriciousness and irregularity in behavior.

a school for wayward youths

Example Sentences

parents of a wayward teenager had always been the most wayward of their three children
Recent Examples on the Web In a sweeping investigation published in 2021, USA TODAY and The Trace found the ATF had been largely toothless and conciliatory, bending over backward to go easy on wayward dealers and sometimes allowing guns to flow into the hands of criminals. Nick Penzenstadler, USA TODAY, 30 Mar. 2023 But the struggle that matters in Stuart’s life isn’t his quest to impale a bit of wayward currency. Parker Smith, The New Yorker, 29 Mar. 2023 But that task proved herculean from the opening possession, when Fox snagged a wayward pass from DeRozan and jogged full-court for an uncontested layup. Julia Poe, Chicago Tribune, 15 Mar. 2023 Raven Yates was caught on Wednesday at an apartment complex in Mobile, concluding a monthslong search for the wayward mom, according to a statement by police in Roman Forest, Texas. David K. Li, NBC News, 10 Mar. 2023 Late one night, her wayward daughter, Claire (Sweeney), arrives at her doorstep, frightened, trembling, and covered in someone else's blood(!). Lester Fabian Brathwaite, EW.com, 8 Mar. 2023 When her wayward daughter Clare (Sweeney) arrives late one night covered in someone else’s blood, the story veers into thriller territory and examines how far a mother will go to save her child. Aaron Couch, The Hollywood Reporter, 8 Mar. 2023 An organization that promotes and studies clinical trial disclosure has petitioned the Food and Drug Administration to take several steps to boost its enforcement of wayward trial sponsors and investigators that fail to register studies and report results. Ed Silverman Reprints, STAT, 27 Feb. 2023 The wayward gator was discovered in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park Lake by workers for the New York Department of Parks and Recreation last Sunday. Zoe Sottile, CNN, 26 Feb. 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'wayward.' 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, short for awayward turned away, from away, adverb + -ward

First Known Use

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

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

Dictionary Entries Near wayward

Cite this Entry

“Wayward.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/wayward. Accessed 10 Jun. 2023.

Kids Definition


way·​ward ˈwā-wərd How to pronounce wayward (audio)
: tending to do as one pleases : disobedient
wayward children
: not following a rule or regular course of action
waywardly adverb
waywardness noun

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