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adjective, shy·er or shi·er, shy·est or shi·est.
  1. bashful; retiring.
  2. easily frightened away; timid.
  3. suspicious; distrustful: I am a bit shy of that sort of person.
  4. reluctant; wary.
  5. deficient: shy of funds.
  6. scant; short of a full amount or number: still a few dollars shy of our goal; an inch shy of being six feet.
  7. (in poker) indebted to the pot.
  8. not bearing or breeding freely, as plants or animals.
verb (used without object), shied, shy·ing.
  1. (especially of a horse) to start back or aside, as in fear.
  2. to draw back; recoil.
noun, plural shies.
  1. a sudden start aside, as in fear.
  1. fight shy of, to keep away from; avoid: She fought shy of making the final decision.

Origin of shy

before 1000; late Middle English schey (adj.), early Middle English scheowe, Old English scēoh; cognate with Middle High German schiech; akin to Dutch schuw, German scheu; cf. eschew
Related formsshy·er, nounshy·ly, adverbshy·ness, noun

Synonyms for shy

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1. Shy, bashful, diffident imply a manner that shows discomfort or lack of confidence in association with others. Shy implies a constitutional shrinking from contact or close association with others, together with a wish to escape notice: shy and retiring. Bashful suggests timidity about meeting others, and trepidation and awkward behavior when brought into prominence or notice: a bashful child. Diffident emphasizes self-distrust, fear of censure, failure, etc., and a hesitant, tentative manner as a consequence: a diffident approach to a touchy subject. 4. heedful, cautious, chary. 10. shrink.

Antonyms for shy

1. forward. 2. trusting. 4. careless. 10. advance.


verb (used with or without object), shied, shy·ing.
  1. to throw with a swift, sudden movement: to shy a stone.
noun, plural shies.
  1. a quick, sudden throw.
  2. Informal.
    1. a gibe or sneer.
    2. a try.

Origin of shy

First recorded in 1780–90; origin uncertain
Related formsshy·er, noun

Synonyms for shy

See more synonyms for on Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Examples from the Web for shy

Contemporary Examples of shy

Historical Examples of shy

  • Sallie, he knew, was a friend of the shy, golden-haired sister.

  • He was a sensitive man, and did not realize that others were sometimes as shy as himself.

  • Such, in truth, was too often the habit of the shy and musing girl.

    Sylph Etherege

    Nathaniel Hawthorne

  • Frederica looked so shy, so confused, when we entered the room, that I felt for her exceedingly.

    Lady Susan

    Jane Austen

  • Her lids had dropped; she looked very slim, and young, and shy.

British Dictionary definitions for shy


adjective shyer, shyest, shier or shiest
  1. not at ease in the company of others
  2. easily frightened; timid
  3. (often foll by of) watchful or wary
  4. poker (of a player) without enough money to back his bet
  5. (of plants and animals) not breeding or producing offspring freely
  6. (foll by of) informal, mainly US and Canadian short (of)
  7. (in combination) showing reluctance or disinclinationworkshy
verb shies, shying or shied (intr)
  1. to move suddenly, as from fearthe horse shied at the snake in the road
  2. (usually foll by off or away) to draw back; recoil
noun plural shies
  1. a sudden movement, as from fear
Derived Formsshyly, adverbshyness, noun

Word Origin for shy

Old English sceoh; related to Old High German sciuhen to frighten away, Dutch schuw shy, Swedish skygg


verb shies, shying or shied
  1. to throw (something) with a sideways motion
noun plural shies
  1. a quick throw
  2. informal a gibe
  3. informal an attempt; experiment
  4. short for cockshy
Derived Formsshyer, noun

Word Origin for shy

C18: of Germanic origin; compare Old High German sciuhen to make timid, Middle Dutch schüchteren to chase away
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

Word Origin and History for shy

late Old English sceoh "timid, easily startled," from Proto-Germanic *skeukh(w)az "afraid" (cf. Middle Low German schüwe, Dutch schuw, German scheu "shy;" Old High German sciuhen, German scheuchen "to scare away"). Uncertain cognates outside Germanic, unless in Old Church Slavonic shchuti "to hunt, incite." Italian schivare "to avoid," Old French eschiver "to shun" are Germanic loan-words. Meaning "lacking, short of" is from 1895, American English gambling slang. Related: Shyly; shyness.


"to throw (a missile) with a jerk or toss," 1787, colloquial, of unknown origin and uncertain connection to shy (adj.). Related: Shied; shying.


"to recoil," 1640s, from shy (adj.). Related: Shied; shying.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

Idioms and Phrases with shy


In addition to the idiom beginning with shy

  • shy away from

also see:

  • bricks shy of a load
  • fight shy of
  • once bitten, twice shy
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.