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From Middle English chari, charre, charri, chary, Early Middle English cearig, chariȝ (concerned with, diligent; sad, sorrowful; of a person: cherished, loved),[1] from Old English ċeariġ (careful; pensive; chary, wary; anxious, sad, sorrowful; dire, grievous), from Proto-West Germanic *karag (anxious; sad), from Proto-Germanic *karō + *-gaz, ultimately from Proto-Indo-European *ǵeh₂r- (exclamation; voice) + *-kos (suffix forming adjectives with the meaning ‘pertaining to; typical of’)); analysable as care +‎ -y.

The English word is cognate with Danish karrig (miserly, stingy), Dutch karig (austere, scant, sparing), Norwegian karrig (barren; meagre; poor), Old High German charag, karag (sparing) (modern German karg (barren; meagre, poor)), Old Saxon carag, karag, Swedish karg (austere; barren; hungry; needy, poor).[2] See further at care.



chary (comparative charier, superlative chariest)

  1. Careful, cautious, shy, wary.
    Synonyms: see Thesaurus:cautious
    Antonyms: unchary; see also Thesaurus:careless
    • c. 1599–1602 (date written), William Shake-speare, The Tragicall Historie of Hamlet, Prince of Denmarke: [] (First Quarto), London: [] [Valentine Simmes] for N[icholas] L[ing] and Iohn Trundell, published 1603, →OCLC, [Act I, scene ii], lines 35–36:
      The Charieſt maide is prodigall enough, / If ſhe vnmaske hir beautie to the Moone.
    • 1607, T[homas] W[alkington], “Of a Sanguine Temperature”, in The Optick Glasse of Hvmors. Or The Touchstone of a Golden Temperature, or the Philosophers Stone to Make a Golden Temper, [], London: Imprinted by Iohn Windet for Martin Clerke, [], →OCLC, folio 60, verso:
      [E]ls is he chary and wary to lay himſelfe open to any daunger, if the finall end of his endeauour and toile bee not plauſible in his demurring judgement.
    • 1675, [William] Wycherley, The Country-wife, a Comedy, [], London: Printed for Thomas Dring, [], →OCLC; republished London: Printed for T[homas] Dring, and sold by R. Bentley, and S. Magnes [], 1688, →OCLC, Act I, scene i, page 4:
      [Y]our Women of Honour, as you call 'em, are only chary of their reputations, not their Perſons, and 'tis ſcandal they wou'd avoid, not Men: [...]
    • 1696 December, “Advice from Rome and Italy”, in The Present State of Europe: Or, The Historical and Political Monthly Mercury, [], volume VII, number 12, London: Printed for Henry Rhodes [], and John Harris [], published 1697, →OCLC, page 383:
      However, the moſt Solid and Apprehenſive ſort of Men cannot be perſwaded, that thoſe two Monarchs [Leopold I, Holy Roman Emperor and Charles II of Spain], being more Chary of their Honour and their Reputation, then the Duke of Savoy [Victor Amadeus II of Sardinia], who ſo ignominouſly abandon'd the Confederates, Innocent XII. will not find that Eaſineſs in them to be wrought upon, which he met with in the King of Cyprus; [...]
    • 1775, Colly Cibber [i.e., Colley Cibber], “Epilogue”, in Henry Fielding, The Modern Husband. A Comedy. [] (The Works of Henry Fielding, Esq.; []; II), London: Printed for John Bell, [], →OCLC, page 333:
      Of ſpotleſs fame, be chary as your lives! / Keep wide of proof, and you're the beſt of wives!
    • 1860 December – 1861 August, Charles Dickens, chapter XIV, in Great Expectations [], volume II, London: Chapman and Hall, [], published October 1861, →OCLC, page 233:
      I should have been chary of discussing my guardian too freely with her; but I should have gone on with the subject so far as to describe the dinner in Gerrard-street, if we had not then come into a sudden glare of gas.
    • 1910, E[dward] A[lfred] d’Alton, “The Penal Laws”, in History of Ireland from the Earliest Times to the Present Day, volume IV (1649 to 1782), London: The Gresham Publishing Company [], →OCLC, page 485:
      They [Roman Catholics] had learned to hate government, and glory in the violation of law; they had become suspicious of everyone, even of their friends; they had contracted a habit of equivocation, and were chary of telling the truth; their manliness of character was to some extent undermined, and they had learned the attitude and the language of slaves.
    • 1930, F. R. Tennant, “The Conformity of the World to Law”, in Philosophical Theology, Cambridge University Press library edition, volumes II (The World, the Soul, and God), Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, London: At the University Press, published 1968, →ISBN, page 13:
      The latter of these conceptions of law is the one that prevails in current science such as avoids metaphysical insinuation, and, chary as to a priori principles and methods, proceeds empirically and inductively.
    • 2007, Stephen R[eeder] Donaldson, Fatal Revenant (The Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant; 2)‎[1], New York, N.Y.: G[eorge] P[almer] Putnam’s Sons, →ISBN, page 182:
      When Lord Berek speaks with you and your companions alone, as he must, be chary in your replies. If you are at any time uncertain of what may be said, permit me to answer in your stead.
  2. Excessively particular or fussy about details; fastidious.
    Antonym: unchary
    • 1839 March 9, [Edgar Allan Poe], “A Wreath of Wild Flowers from New England. By Frances Sargent Osgood. 12mo. pp. 364. London, 1839. Churton. [book review]”, in The Literary Gazette; and Journal of the Belles Lettres, Arts, Sciences, &c., number 1155, London: Printed by Moyes and Barclay, []; published for the proprietors, at the Literary Gazette office, [], →OCLC, page 148, column 3:
      True, the wreath might have been improved with a little more care; [...] Though, after all, we are, perhaps, too chary; for in nature every leaf is not ironed out to a form, nor propped up with a wiry precision; but blown and ruffled by the refreshing breezes, and looking as easy, and careless, and unaffected, as a child that bounds along with its silken locks tossed to and fro just as the wind uplifts them. Page after page of this volume have we perused with a feeling of pleasure and admiration.
  3. Not disposed to give freely; not lavish; frugal, sparing.
    Antonym: unchary
    • 1820, H[enry] H[art] Milman, “Fountain of Siloe—Night—An Approaching Storm”, in The Fall of Jerusalem: A Dramatic Poem, London: John Murray, [], →OCLC, page 97:
      Oh! look not thus o'erjoy'd, for if I thought / We e'er could meet again this side the grave, / Trust me, I had been charier of my tenderness.
    • 1895, John Addington Symonds, “[Shelley] Second Residence in London, and Separation from Harriet”, in James [Augustus] Cotter Morison, [Thomas Henry] Huxley, John A. Symonds, Gibbon [] Also Hume [] Shelley [], New York, N.Y.: Arkel Weekly Company, →OCLC, page 51:
      The house had a projecting window, where the poet [Percy Bysshe Shelley] loved to sit with book in hand, and catch, according to his custom, the maximum of sunlight granted by a chary English summer.
    • 1901 February 2, Roger P. Barnum, “Centenary of Chief Justice Marshall’s installation”, in Evening Report, volume XI, number 79, Lebanon, Pa.: Report Pub. Co., →OCLC, page 2, columns 6–7:
      Virginia had been somewhat chary of favors to her distinguished son, and it was from a son of Massachusetts that his highest honors came, for President John Adams, in recognition of his great ability, made [John] Marshall secretary of state after having offered him an appointment to the supreme bench, which he declined.
    • 1910 March 19, “For the care of the face”, in Spokane Daily Chronicle, Spokane, Wash.: Chronicle Pub. Co., →OCLC:
      We instinctively know that nature supplied the form but, ever chary of favors, has passed on to give the beautiful fare perhaps, to a woman of unlovely form.
    • 1918 June 9, “Checking the Teutons on the Western Front”, in The Spokesman-Review, number 26, Spokane, Wash.: Review Pub. Co., →OCLC, page 4, column 6:
      American forces on the west of the Soissons salient stopped a German advance and the French, who are chary of compliments, declared that our "lightning trained" men conducted themselves as veterans.
  4. (obsolete) Cared for, regarded as precious; cherished.
    Antonym: unchary

Derived terms[edit]



chary (comparative more chary, superlative most chary)

  1. Synonym of charily: carefully, cautiously, warily.
    Synonyms: see Thesaurus:cautiously
    Antonyms: carelessly, incautiously, uncarefully, uncautiously, unwarily


  1. ^ chārī, adj.”, in MED Online, Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan, 2007.
  2. ^ chary, adj.”, in OED Online Paid subscription required, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, 1889; “chary, adj.”, in Lexico,; Oxford University Press, 2019–2022.