adverb or adjective

wil·​ly-nil·​ly ˌwi-lē-ˈni-lē How to pronounce willy-nilly (audio)
: by compulsion : without choice
: in a haphazard or spontaneous manner

Examples of willy-nilly in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web Move, but don’t run willy-nilly or blindly follow a crowd. Marissa Vonesh, Washington Post, 29 Aug. 2023 The ground moves willy-nilly under collegiate sports every day. San Diego Union-Tribune, 12 Aug. 2023 The good news is cutting you lawn with meticulous precision doesn’t really take much more time than cutting it willy-nilly. Bradley Ford, Popular Mechanics, 4 Aug. 2023 Yet, willy-nilly, existing autism research findings, and the resultant therapies and educational strategies, have been applied across the board to all autistics. Time, 31 July 2023 The study shows what might happen to the world if people keep polluting willy-nilly before finding a way to take those CO2 emissions out of the atmosphere. Justine Calma, The Verge, 26 July 2023 And yet, Indiana Jones isn’t a franchise to rewrite canon willy-nilly. Vulture, 30 June 2023 Who at Fox News ever — ever — would have supposed that the guy willing to smear others willy-nilly would similarly bash his colleagues? Erik Wemple, Washington Post, 24 Apr. 2023 Magical tech — which no modern thriller can do without, seemingly — is deployed willy-nilly. Robert Lloyd, Los Angeles Times, 27 Apr. 2023 See More

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

Word History


alteration of will I nill I or will ye nill ye or will he nill he

First Known Use

1608, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of willy-nilly was in 1608

Dictionary Entries Near willy-nilly

Cite this Entry

“Willy-nilly.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/willy-nilly. Accessed 27 Sep. 2023.

Kids Definition


adverb or adjective
: by force : without choice
rushed us along willy-nilly
: in an unpredictable manner
children running about willy–nilly

an altered form of the phrase will I nill I or will ye nill ye; nill, an ancient negative form of will, from Old English nyllan, a combination of ne "not" and wyllan "to wish, will"

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