Definition of willy-nilly in English:

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Pronunciation: /ˌwilēˈnilē/


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.
2Without direction or planning; haphazardly: politicians expanded spending programs 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.


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

For editors and proofreaders

Syllabification: wil·ly-nil·ly

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