[ kav-uhl ]
See synonyms for: cavilcavilingcavillingcaviler on

verb (used without object),cav·iled, cav·il·ing or (especially British) cav·illed, cav·il·ling.
  1. to raise irritating and trivial objections; find fault with unnecessarily (usually followed by at or about): He finds something to cavil at in everything I say.

verb (used with object),cav·iled, cav·il·ing or (especially British) cav·illed, cav·il·ling.
  1. to oppose by inconsequential, frivolous, or sham objections: to cavil each item of a proposed agenda.

  1. a trivial and annoying objection.

  2. the raising of such objections.

Origin of cavil

First recorded in 1540–50; from Latin cavillārī “to jeer, scoff, quibble,” derivative of cavilla “jesting, banter”

Other words for cavil

Other words from cavil

  • cav·il·er; especially British, cav·il·ler, noun
  • cav·il·ing·ly; especially British, cav·il·ling·ly, adverb
  • outcavil, verb (used with object), out·cav·iled, out·cav·il·ing or (especially British) out·cav·illed, out·cav·il·ling.
  • un·cav·il·ing, adjective
  • un·cav·il·ling, adjective Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023

How to use cavil in a sentence

  • He was angry and impatient with the "cavilling spirit of mediocrity," that takes pleasure in the lapses of "the mighty-souled."

    The Life of Mazzini | Bolton King
  • At length, without any measures of force, the cavilling of Spain ceased and she acquiesced in the transfer.

    Thomas Jefferson | Edward S. Ellis et. al.
  • Mr. Caxton (descending from his stilts with an air as mildly reproachful as if I had been cavilling at the virtues of Socrates).

    The Caxtons, Complete | Edward Bulwer-Lytton
  • No cavilling about the national debt, however incurred; that is sacred as honor, and must be paid, principal and interest.

  • As for Marble, it was not in his nature to acquiesce in such an arrangement, without much cavilling and contention.

    Afloat And Ashore | James Fenimore Cooper

British Dictionary definitions for cavil


/ (ˈkævɪl) /

verb-ils, -illing or -illed or US -ils, -iling or -iled
  1. (intr; foll by at or about) to raise annoying petty objections; quibble; carp

  1. a captious trifling objection

Origin of cavil

C16: from Old French caviller, from Latin cavillārī to jeer, from cavilla raillery

Derived forms of cavil

  • caviller, noun
  • cavilling, adjective

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012