charier; chariest
: discreetly cautious: such as
: hesitant and vigilant about dangers and risks
a government chary of getting involved in foreign entanglements
: slow to grant, accept, or expend
a person very chary of compliments
archaic : dear, treasured
charily adverb

Did you know?

It was sorrow that bred the caution of chary. In Middle English chary meant "sorrowful," a sense that harks back to the word's Old English ancestor caru (an early form of care, and another term that originally meant "sorrow" or "grief"). In a sense switch that demonstrates that love can be both bitter and sweet, chary later came to mean "dear" or "cherished." That's how 16th-century English dramatist George Peele used it: "the chariest and the choicest queen, That ever did delight my royal eyes." Both sorrow and affection have largely faded from chary, however, and in Modern English the word is most often used as a synonym of either careful or sparing.

Choose the Right Synonym for chary

cautious, circumspect, wary, chary mean prudently watchful and discreet in the face of danger or risk.

cautious implies the exercise of forethought usually prompted by fear of danger.

a cautious driver

circumspect suggests less fear and stresses the surveying of all possible consequences before acting or deciding.

circumspect in his business dealings

wary emphasizes suspiciousness and alertness in watching for danger and cunning in escaping it.

keeps a wary eye on the competition

chary implies a cautious reluctance to give, act, or speak freely.

chary of signing papers without having read them first

Examples of chary in a Sentence

chary investors who weren't burned by the dot-com bust
Recent Examples on the Web A lot of people were mildly chary of its prospects. The Economist, 13 Mar. 2021 He’s not as guarded or chary as he was immersed in the Boston Baseball Experience, where one wrong step or word can spark furor. Globe Staff,, 18 July 2022 Knox was a bit chary on specifics, but no athlete allows that many injections without asking questions. Richard A. Lovett, Outside Online, 1 Sep. 2021 Beautiful is a strong word, and artists, critics and scholars are chary of it. Washington Post, 3 Nov. 2021 With a writer so chary of detail, the reader rushes to fill in. Caleb Crain, The Atlantic, 10 Aug. 2021 That tone is most obvious in the author’s chary regard of his icon. John Semley, The New Republic, 26 May 2021 Evangelical Christians, traditionally chary of getting involved in partisan politics. Rick Perlstein, Smithsonian Magazine, 17 Aug. 2020 The autocratic Chinese government is also chary of any display of mass mobilization, even benign ones like Pride. Charlie Campbell / Shanghai, Time, 15 June 2018

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'chary.' 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 charri "sorrowful, dear, cherished," going back to Old English cearig "troubled, troublesome, taking care," going back to Germanic *karaga- (whence Old Saxon & Old High German karag "sorrowful"), from *karō "sorrow, worry" + *-aga-, by-form of *-iga- -y entry 1 — more at care entry 1

First Known Use

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 2

Time Traveler
The first known use of chary was in the 15th century


Dictionary Entries Near chary

Cite this Entry

“Chary.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 28 May. 2024.

Kids Definition


ˈcha(ə)r-ē How to pronounce chary (audio)
charier; chariest
: cautious especially to protect something
chary of his reputation
: slow to give, accept, or spend
chary of praise
chariness noun

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