• something that happens when the people involved do not want it to occur.
  • to do something, whether you are willing or unwilling to do it.
  • to do something carelessly without planning.
  • without reason or order.
  • haphazardly.
  • ready or not ready. 
  • without choice.
  • by compulsion.

Examples in Sentences 

  1. Each side was drawn willy-nilly into the battle.
  2. He threw his clothes willy nilly into the closet. 
  3. He was forced to accept the firm’s proposal willy-nilly.
  4. Avoid making purchases with your credit card willy-nilly
  5. It is not advisable to select a college willy-nilly. Doing some research is vital.
  6. I’m afraid I will assign you to a class willy-nilly.
  7. She listed the items willy-nilly without regard for how they were loaded. 
  8. Even though I’m patriotic, I find it difficult to hand my life to my country willy-nilly.
  9. Don’t break the law willy-nilly.
  10. Consumers have accused companies of increasing prices willy-nilly.
  11. The church is being forced to deal with current social issues willy-nilly.
  12. Everyone had to participate willy-nilly.


The idiom “willy nilly” comes from the obsolete phrases “will I, nill I” or “will he, nill he” or “will ye, nill ye.”

The word “nill” originates from the Old English “nyllan,” which combines the letters “ne” (for no) and “willan” (will). Nill meant not wanting to do something. The original definition was “whether a person likes it or not,” and it steadily evolved into today’s meaning.

The phrase has been used for at least a thousand years, with the earliest recorded use appearing in the Old English text Aelfric’s Lives of Saints, written around the year 1000:

“Forean the we synd synfulle and sceolan beon eadmode, wille we, nelle we.”

Shakespeare was aware of the expression and seemed to enjoy it quite a bit in all of its forms. He used it in The Taming of the Shrew and Hamlet in the late 1590s.

Today, people use it in its original sense or to mean in a disorganized fashion or sloppily. It is perfect for describing something people do without planning.

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