ar·​ti·​fice | \ˈär-tə-fəs \

Definition of artifice 

1a : clever or artful skill : ingenuity … believing that characters had to be created from within rather than with artifice.— Garson Kanin

b : an ingenious device or expedient

2a : an artful stratagem : trick … revising the state's constitution through a series of legal stratagems and artifices— W. Haywood Burns

b : false or insincere behavior social artifice

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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

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 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 derives from artificium, Latin for artifice (that root also gave English artificial). Artificium in turn developed from ars, the Latin root underlying the word art (and related terms such as artist and artisan).

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

His cleverness can feel more artifice than organic. Franklin Foer, The Atlantic, "The Annoying Genius Who Makes the World Cup Worth Watching," 5 July 2018 Our fears, though, are all for the anxious couple, whose genuine decency and vulnerability pierce the movie’s artifice and shame Nancy’s posturing. Christina Choe, New York Times, "Review: In ‘Nancy,’ a Troubled Woman Seeks Connection," 7 June 2018 He is charged with one count of fraudulent schemes and artifices and three counts of theft, according to court documents. Perry Vandell, azcentral, "Ex-broker accused of stealing retirement money pleads not guilty," 1 June 2018 My mother was a master of artifice, and her illness went undetected, too. Laura Zera, New York Times, "No One Helped My Mentally Ill Mother, or Me," 22 June 2018 Look at his American robin: The feathers’ surfaces almost have a tactile nap; the colors are vital, even electric, without artifice. Edward Rothstein, WSJ, "‘Before Audubon: Alexander Wilson’s Birds of the United States’ Review: Ornithology Takes Flight," 21 May 2018 Yes, sometimes being authentically U2 has meant embracing artifice; sometimes that's meant being the biggest band in the world with the most irresistible, anthemic choruses. Joe Lynch, Billboard, "U2 Brings Out the Sun Ra Arkestra, Pays Tribute to Anthony Bourdain at Legendary Apollo Theater," 13 June 2018 Shift position even slightly, though, and the artifice is plain to see. Charles Desmarais, San Francisco Chronicle, "Scenes of a privileged paradise that can never be in Ragnar Kjartansson’s ‘Western Culture’," 25 May 2018 Glitz and glamour pervade the montages as well as the sculptures on view here, and the L.A.-based Ray offsets this artifice with hints of authenticity. Leah Ollman,, "Glitz, glamor, shine and sparkle: the dazzling photomontages of Fay Ray," 24 Apr. 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'artifice.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of artifice

1540, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

History and Etymology for artifice

Middle French, from Latin artificium, from artific-, artifex artificer, from Latin art-, ars + facere — see artifact

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The first known use of artifice was in 1540

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More Definitions for artifice



English Language Learners Definition of artifice

: dishonest or insincere behavior or speech that is meant to deceive someone


ar·​ti·​fice | \ˈär-tə-fəs \

Kids Definition of artifice

: a clever trick or device She used every artifice to avoid work.


ar·​ti·​fice | \ˈär-tə-fəs \

Legal Definition of artifice 

: a clever strategy usually intended to deceive or defraud

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More from Merriam-Webster on artifice

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for artifice

Spanish Central: Translation of artifice

Nglish: Translation of artifice for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of artifice for Arabic Speakers

Comments on artifice

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


obstinately defiant of authority

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