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From Middle English *voluntarie, from Old French volontaire, from Latin voluntārius (willing, of free will), from voluntās (will, choice, desire), from volēns, present participle of volo (to will). Displaced native Old English selfwille (literally self-willed).



voluntary (comparative more voluntary, superlative most voluntary)

  1. Done, given, or acting of one's own free will.
    • September 10, 1828, Nathaniel William Taylor, Sermon delivered in the Chapel of Yale College
      That sin or guilt pertains exclusively to voluntary action is the true principle of orthodoxy.
    • 1726, Alexander, transl. Pope, “Book III”, in The Odyssey, translation of original by Homer, line 345; republished in The Complete Poetical Works of Alexander Pope, Boston, New York: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1902, page 540:
      She fell, to lust a voluntary prey.
  2. Done by design or intention; intentional.
    If a man accidentally kills another by lopping a tree, it is not voluntary manslaughter.
  3. Working or done without payment.
  4. Endowed with the power of willing.
    • 1594, Richard Hooker, “Book 1”, in Of the Lawes of Ecclesiastical Politie[1], London: John Walthoe et al, published 1782, page 5:
      [] God did not work as a necessary, but a voluntary agent, intending before-hand, and decreeing with himself, that which did outwardly proceed from him.
  5. Of or relating to voluntarism.
    a voluntary church, in distinction from an established or state church



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voluntary (comparative more voluntary, superlative most voluntary)

  1. (obsolete) Voluntarily.


voluntary (plural voluntaries)

  1. (music) A short piece of music, often having improvisation, played on a solo instrument.
  2. A volunteer.
  3. A supporter of voluntarism; a voluntarist.