Merriam-Webster Logo
  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
  • Medical
  • Scrabble
  • Spanish Central
  • Learner's Dictionary


adjective ten·ta·tive \ˈten-tə-tiv\

Simple Definition of tentative

  • : not done with confidence : uncertain and hesitant

  • : not definite : still able to be changed

Full Definition of tentative

  1. 1 :  not fully worked out or developed <tentative plans>

  2. 2 :  hesitant, uncertain <a tentative smile>

tentative noun
ten·ta·tive·ly adverb
ten·ta·tive·ness noun

Examples of tentative

  1. In the winter, retirees from the Midwest fill the trailer parks. They are known with tentative affection as snowbirds. —William Langewiesche, Atlantic, June 1992

  2. Clearly the President was chastened by the sorrow and resentment of the people to whom he spoke, but his words were somehow tentative and contingent, as if they could be withdrawn on a month's notice. —Lewis H. Lapham, Harper's, July 1992

  3. There was a crying need, in the tentative early days of populist toryism, for a voice that could bring the gospel to the lumpen. —Christopher Hitchens, Times Literary Supplement, 30 Nov. 1990

  4. Thus, we have a tentative picture of anatomically modern people arising in Africa over 100,000 years ago, but initially making the same tools as Neanderthals and having no advantage over them. By perhaps 60,000 years ago, some magic twist of behavior had been added to the modern anatomy. —Jared M. Diamond, Discover, May 1989

  5. the baby's first tentative steps

  6. We have tentative plans for the weekend.

Origin of tentative

Medieval Latin tentativus, from Latin tentatus, past participle of tentare, temptare to feel, try

First Known Use: 1626

Seen and Heard

What made you want to look up tentative? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


February 8, 2016

to clear from accusation or blame

Get Word of the Day daily email!


Take a 3-minute break and test your skills!


Which of the following refers to thin, bending ice, or to the act of running over such ice?

pince-nez duvet spindrift kittly-benders
Name That Thing

10 quick questions: hear them, spell them, and see how your skills compare to the crowd.


Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.