The Meaning of Coy: What It Is and How To Use It

Do you know the definition of coy? This article will provide you with all of the information you need on the word coy, including its definition, etymology, usage, example sentences, and more!

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What does the word coy mean?

According to Merriam-Webster Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language and Dictionary, the word coy (pronunciation: kɔɪ) is an adjective that means shy, modest, reluctant, or coquettish.  This reluctance or evasiveness is usually used in a provocative way to prompt intrigue or mystery. For example, a mayor might be coy about her political aspirations or ambitions, a government teacher might be coy about his own political beliefs, or a president might talk about a ​​​war’s costs in a coquettish manner. The word coy tends to imply an innocence, often feigned. A coy person might strike allure in a flirtatious way. This bashfulness is often used as a decoy, and there is an implication of coquetry or coquettishness there. Coy should not be confused with decoy, which is some sort of trap disguised as something else to catch things like lobsters or waterfowl in a trap or cage. Someone who is coy might say things with an inquisitive glimmer, or worry about how someone else acts with a look of supreme contentment. The word coy can be used to describe both people and things, from a coy maid to love’s coy touch, to the coy soothing sound of the stroke of a pen. 

How can the word coy be used in a sentence?

The word coy can be used in many different ways in both proper English and casual English. In the following dialogs are a few examples of the word coy.

Adrienne: Where are you from, pet?

Wilder: Oh you know, nowhere interesting. 

Adrienne: Why are you being coy?

Wilder: I hate it there. I’m from Lonoke County, Arkansas. You might have seen it on TV shows or a news report. There isn’t even an airport within 100 miles. Just livestock, cultivation, and butter. 

Here, one person is coy about where they are from.

Adrienne: Why do you turn your phone away every time I look over there? Got another man I should know about?

Wilder: Ha ha, Mr. Humor. Um, o, just don’t want you seeing my search history.

Adrienne: Why’s that? Let me see this… “heart button meaning, longer lashes, Game of Thrones season 3, slang words used by generation z…” are you trying to come off younger?

Wilder: No way!

Adrienne: And these notes… “list of snacks i like, new list of snacks i like, major meals of a day…” how many of your own lists do you have?

Wilder: Stop looking at that!

This time, a person is coy about their search history and notes app. The word coy can be used in many different circumstances to describe a reluctant shyness. This word is very versatile.

What is the origin of the word coy?

According to Etymonline, the adjective coy has been used since the early 14th century. This comes from the Old French coi, a version of the earlier quei meaning quiet, still, or gentle. These come from the Vulgar Latin ​​quiētus or ​quētus meaning calm or resting, from the Proto-Indo-European root kweie or kweiə meaning to rest or be quiet. Coy has been used to mean shy or bashful since the late 14th century and unwilling to commit by 1961. Related words include coyly (adv.) and coyness (n.). Other suffixes can be added onto the end of the word coy as well, including ness, est, ish, and er

What are synonyms and antonyms for the word coy?

There are many different words that a person can use in place of the word coy. These are called synonyms, which are words and phrases that have the same definition as another given word or phrase. Synonyms are a great way to work on expanding your English language vocabulary as well as helping you to avoid repeating the same word over and over again. This list of synonyms for the word coy is provided by Thesaurus.

  •  backward
  •  unwilling
  •  chary
  •  reticent
  •  reserve
  •  modesty
  •  shrinking
  •  reluctant
  •  sheepish
  •  timid
  •  prudish
  •  evasive
  •  retiring
  •  modest
  •  demure
  •  uneffusive
  •  verecund
  •  diffident
  •  abashed
  •  shy
  •  kittenish
  •  overmodest
  •  nervous
  •  flirtatious
  •  bashful
  •  wary
  •  unresponsive
  •  skittish
  •  shamefaced
  •  indisposed
  •  conscious
  •  silent
  •  averse
  •  reserved
  •  timorous
  •  uneager
  •  cautious
  •  unsocial
  •  suspicious
  •  blushing
  •  distrustful
  •  recessive
  •  humble
  •  apprehensive
  •  fearful
  •  circumspect
  •  self-effacing
  •  unassertive
  •  hesitant
  •  loner
  •  disinclined
  •  constrained
  •  rabbity
  •  blushful
  •  recoiling
  •  embarrassed
  •  introverted
  •  self-conscious
  •  coquettish
  •  afraid
  •  introvert
  •  loath
  •  unassured

There are also a number of different words that have the opposite meaning of the word coy. These opposite words are called antonyms. Learning antonyms is another quick and easy way to expand your English language vocabulary. This list of antonyms for the word coy is also provided by Thesaurus

  •  close
  •  sassy
  •  sympathetic
  •  pushing
  •  pert
  •  approachable
  •  familiar
  •  saucy
  •  gregarious
  •  overweening
  •  sociable
  •  buddy-buddy
  •  civil
  •  assertive
  •  loving
  •  well-disposed
  •  genial
  •  convivial
  •  amicable
  •  good
  •  solicitous
  •  affectionate
  •  loose lips
  •  open
  •  expansive
  •  demonstrative
  •  rude
  •  audacious
  •  benign
  •  informal
  •  presumptuous
  •  benevolent
  •  attentive
  •  fond
  •  confident
  •  outgoing
  •  unconstrained
  •  fresh
  •  chummy
  •  assuming
  •  uppity
  •  clubby
  •  coming on strong
  •  cordial
  •  loyal
  •  unreserved
  •  tender
  •  comradely
  •  peaceful
  •  smart
  •  extrovert
  •  easy
  •  on good terms
  •  self-assertive
  •  overassertive
  •  friendly
  •  bare-faced
  •  helpful
  •  propitious
  •  peaceable
  •  unrestrained
  •  bold
  •  kindly
  •  nervy
  •  aggressive
  •  wise
  •  cheeky
  •  communicative
  •  kind
  •  warm
  •  welcoming
  •  confiding
  •  pushy
  •  amiable
  •  smart-alecky
  •  bantam
  •  impudent
  •  neighborly
  •  presuming
  •  auspicious
  •  beneficial
  •  faithful
  •  thick
  •  brazen
  •  affable
  •  receptive
  •  attached
  •  favorable
  •  conciliatory

Overall, the word coy is an adjective that describes a pretended shyness, or a reluctance that is presented in a provocative manner. This word comes from the Old French quei and the Latin quietus, from Indo-European roots. Try using this word in a sentence – you may find it becomes your new favorite word!


  1. COY Synonyms: 26 Synonyms & Antonyms for COY | Thesaurus 
  2. Friendly Synonyms: Find Another Word for Friendly | Thesaurus 
  3. coy | Origin and meaning of coy | Online Etymology Dictionary 
  4. Coy | Definition of Coy |
  5. Coy | Definition of Coy | Merriam-Webster