adverb or adjective
wil·​ly-nil·​ly | \ ˌwi-lē-ˈni-lē How to pronounce willy-nilly (audio) \

Definition of willy-nilly

1 : by compulsion : without choice
2 : in a haphazard or spontaneous manner

First Known Use of willy-nilly

1608, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for willy-nilly

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

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about willy-nilly

Share willy-nilly

Statistics for willy-nilly

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for willy-nilly

The first known use of willy-nilly was in 1608

See more words from the same year

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for willy-nilly



English Language Learners Definition of willy-nilly

: in a careless and unplanned way
: in a way that does not allow any choices or planning

Keep scrolling for more

More from Merriam-Webster on willy-nilly

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with willy-nilly

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for willy-nilly

Spanish Central: Translation of willy-nilly

Nglish: Translation of willy-nilly for Spanish Speakers

Comments on willy-nilly

What made you want to look up willy-nilly? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


to boil down or concentrate

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Original Meanings Quiz

  • rembrandt-painting-a-young-scholar-and-his-tutor
  • Which of the following is the earliest known sense of the word awe?
How Strong Is Your Vocabulary?

Test your vocabulary with our 10-question quiz!

Word Winder's CrossWinder

Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.


Love words? Need even more definitions?

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