Definition of willy-nilly in English:

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Pronunciation: /wɪliˈnɪli/


1Whether one likes it or not: he would be forced to collaborate willy-nilly
More example sentences
  • Caught up, willy-nilly, in lawlessness of a sort were also numberless worthy members of the public, who faced a stupefying barrage of emergency laws passed on sumptuary, economic and security grounds.
  • Now, 11 years later, he was the Chief Commissioner of the hill State of Manipur, and had willy-nilly to depute election officers and to supervise the polling and the counting.
  • But willy-nilly one must, come hail or thunderstorm.
whether one likes it or not, of necessity, necessarily;
one way or the other;
informal like it or not, like it or lump it
formal perforce
2Without direction or planning; haphazardly: politicians expanded spending programmes willy-nilly
More example sentences
  • ‘Businesses are not free to spend their money willy-nilly,’ she said.
  • There are some pieces of music that must be parceled out over a lifetime, and you don't want to spend their impact willy-nilly.
  • It was made perfectly clear that money will not be tipped onto a table for the town to spend willy-nilly on pet projects.
haphazardly, at random, randomly, without planning, without method


Early 17th century: later spelling of will I, nill I 'I am willing, I am unwilling'.

  • This was originally will I, nill I, meaning ‘I am willing, I am unwilling’. It dates from the early 17th century. shilly-shally was formed in a similar way from ‘shill I, shall I?, where ‘shill’ is just a variation on ‘shall’.

Words that rhyme with willy-nilly

Billie, billy, Chile, chilli (US chili), chilly, Dili, dilly, filly, frilly, ghillie, gillie, Gilly, hilly, Lillee, lily, Lyly, papillae, Philly, Piccadilly, piccalilli, silly, skilly, stilly, Tilly

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