According to dictionary, the general meaning of these words (wheedle, cajole and coax) is : Influence or urge by gentle urging, caressing, or flattering.

But I am confused regarding the usage of these words. For what type of persuasion each word can be used ? What is the real difference between them ?

  • 3
    What did the dictionary tell you?
    – Drew
    Sep 28, 2016 at 15:37
  • A dictionary said "urge by gentle urging"? Dec 27, 2020 at 17:01

2 Answers 2


Here's what Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of Synonyms (1984) thinks the differences are:

coax, cajole, wheedle, blandish mean to use ingratiating art in persuading or attempting to persuade. Coax implies gentle, persistent efforts to induce another or to draw what is desired out of another {in a coaxing voice, suited to a nurse soothing a baby—Burney} It most often suggests artful pleading or teasing in an attempt to gain one's ends {little by little, he coaxed some of the men whom the measure concerned most intimately to give in their views—Kipling} {one ... who can linger over and taste a phrase, coaxing its flavor to the palate as if it were an old wine—Moody} {his skill in coaxing ... the attention of the variable human mind to divine objects—T. S. Eliot} but it may be extended to other situations in which persevering yet careful efforts are used to attain an end {coax embers into a blaze} Cajole may stress deceit (as by flattering or making specious promises) {they ... should be treated as they themselves treat fools, this is, be cajoled with praises—Pope} It more often implies enticing or alluring and suggests beguilement rather than duplicity {I think a vein of sentiment ... induced me to take the journey, and to cajole a reluctant friend into joining me—Repplier} Wheedle suggests more strongly than cajole the use of soft words, artful flattery, or seductive appeal {she could wheedle the soul out of a saint—Hewlett} {he had wheedled the Abeyta woman out of her geraniums, and left her pleased with herself for surrendering them—Mary Austin} {no hucksters to wheedle you into buying souvenirs—Nebel}

So MW chiefly distinguishes between the three words in terms of gentle persistence in artful pleading (coax) versus enticement through beguiling maneuvers or duplicity (cajole) versus artful or seductive flattery (wheedle). Persistence seems to be central to all three forms of persuasion, and I suspect that there is a great deal of overlap in how people use these terms in everyday speech.

  • 5
    Also, cajole and wheedle are directed at people; coax can be used with animals or inanimate objects.
    – John Feltz
    Oct 28, 2016 at 23:40

They are largely synonymous. Evidenced by the dictionary entries of each of them. ODO lists the other two always in the top three synonyms for all three. The dictionary entries from ODO also hold some usage distinctions.

[NO OBJECT] : wheedle

[WITH OBJECT] : wheedle, coax, cajole

[WITH DIRECT SPEECH] : wheedle, coax

Otherwise you can also look at the further synonyms to derive what other people might derive from the word.

  • 1
    This does not answer the question, which asks about the connotation differences.
    – Drew
    Sep 28, 2016 at 15:38
  • @Drew In Helmar's defense, this answer shows one of the real differences between them: they can't be used interchangeably in all contexts.
    – MetaEd
    Sep 28, 2016 at 16:09
  • @Drew The question never expressly asked for semantic connotations. Syntactical considerations are still a matter of usage. Even if it did expressly make that request or if we broadly interpreted the phrasing as requiring all aspects of usage, this answer seems to be implying that there is no significant semantic distinction by noting their synonymy. It might be worthwhile for Helmar to make a direct comparison of the definitions, with proper links to each entry, and expressly note the lack of distinctiveness between the primary definitions of each word, if that is what he really meant though.
    – Tonepoet
    Sep 28, 2016 at 23:34

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