ar·​ti·​fice ˈär-tə-fəs How to pronounce artifice (audio)
: clever or artful skill : ingenuity
… believing that characters had to be created from within rather than with artifice.Garson Kanin
: an ingenious device or expedient
: an artful stratagem : trick
… revising the state's constitution through a series of legal stratagems and artificesW. Haywood Burns
: false or insincere behavior
social artifice

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The Difference Between Art and Artifice

Do great actors display artifice or art? Sometimes a bit of both. Artifice stresses creative skill or intelligence, but it also implies a sense of falseness and trickery. Art generally rises above such falseness, suggesting instead an unanalyzable creative force. Actors may rely on some of each, but the personae they display in their roles are usually artificial creations. Therein lies a lexical connection between art and artifice. Artifice comes from artificium, Latin for "artistry, craftmanship, craft, craftiness, and cunning." (That root also gave us the English word artificial.) Artificium, in turn, developed from ars, the Latin root underlying the word art (and related terms such as artist and artisan).

Choose the Right Synonym for artifice

trick, ruse, stratagem, maneuver, artifice, wile, feint mean an indirect means to gain an end.

trick may imply deception, roguishness, illusion, and either an evil or harmless end.

the tricks of the trade

ruse stresses an attempt to mislead by a false impression.

the ruses of smugglers

stratagem implies a ruse used to entrap, outwit, circumvent, or surprise an opponent or enemy.

the stratagem-filled game

maneuver suggests adroit and skillful avoidance of difficulty.

last-minute maneuvers to avert bankruptcy

artifice implies ingenious contrivance or invention.

the clever artifices of the stage

wile suggests an attempt to entrap or deceive with false allurements.

used all of his wiles to ingratiate himself

feint implies a diversion or distraction of attention away from one's real intent.

a feint toward the enemy's left flank

art, skill, cunning, artifice, craft mean the faculty of executing well what one has devised.

art implies a personal, unanalyzable creative power.

the art of choosing the right word

skill stresses technical knowledge and proficiency.

the skill of a glassblower

cunning suggests ingenuity and subtlety in devising, inventing, or executing.

a mystery plotted with great cunning

artifice suggests technical skill especially in imitating things in nature.

believed realism in film could be achieved only by artifice

craft may imply expertness in workmanship.

the craft of a master goldsmith

Examples of artifice in a Sentence

He spoke without artifice or pretense. The whole story was just an artifice to win our sympathy.
Recent Examples on the Web Certainly, in Hollywood, in showbusiness, there’s this really bizarre, artifice thing that’s very hard to also nail down. Damon Wise, Deadline, 30 June 2024 But the difference, of course, is that the suffering on those shows is artifice. Alexander Woo, The Hollywood Reporter, 21 June 2024 An over-scrupulous jealousy of danger to the rights of the people, which is more commonly the fault of the head than of the heart, will be represented as mere pretense and artifice, the stale bait for popularity at the expense of the public good. Liz Tracey, JSTOR Daily, 30 May 2024 Movies that rely on symbolism usually do so through conspicuous artifice, whether that of high style (Hitchcock, Hawks, Wes Anderson) or of rigorous reserve (Michelangelo Antonioni, Alain Resnais). Richard Brody, The New Yorker, 12 June 2024 See all Example Sentences for artifice 

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'artifice.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


borrowed from Anglo-French & Middle French, "trade, craft, craftsmanship, contrivance," borrowed from Latin artificium "artistry, craftsmanship, craft, craftiness, cunning," from artific-, artifex "practitioner of an art, specialist, craftsman, creator" (from art-, ars "acquired skill, craftsmanship" + -fic-, -fex, agentive derivative of facere "to make, bring about, do") + -ium, denominal or deverbal suffix of function or state — more at art entry 1, fact

First Known Use

1540, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

Time Traveler
The first known use of artifice was in 1540


Dictionary Entries Near artifice

Cite this Entry

“Artifice.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 13 Jul. 2024.

Kids Definition


ar·​ti·​fice ˈärt-ə-fəs How to pronounce artifice (audio)
: a clever device : trick
: false or dishonest behavior
social artifice
: clever skill
a vase made with much artifice

Legal Definition


ar·​ti·​fice ˈär-tə-fəs How to pronounce artifice (audio)
: a clever strategy usually intended to deceive or defraud

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