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October 16, 2022

Willy-nilly / adverb / wil·ly-nil·ly

The word willy-nilly is used in English as both an adverb and an adjective with slightly different meanings. As an adverb, willy-nilly describes actions that are completed without thought or planning. As an adjective willy-nilly describes personalities or behaviors that are spontaneous. The words haphazardly and randomly have the same meaning as willy-nilly; methodically and systematically are antonyms of willy-nilly.

In a Sentence

The defendant walked out of the courtroom willy-nilly, and the police immediately arrested him for contempt of court.

The judge and jury thought it was deplorable that he acted willy-nilly — now he's in trouble and facing serious jail time.

People who care about the consequences of their actions avoid behaving in willy-nilly ways that can get them into trouble.


Willy-nilly first appeared in English around 1608. It was derived from the English words "will I and nill I" which came together to form the new term we still use today. There is some controversy surrounding the origin of willy-nilly. Etymologists also suspect the word willy-nilly ties to the Dutch willekeurig, meaning "arbitrary."


Haphazardly, Randomly


Methodically, Systematically

1 Comment

  1. Leo Fiander

    What can I do with this? Leo Fiander


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