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 artifices W. 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 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).

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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

Example Sentences

He spoke without artifice or pretense. The whole story was just an artifice to win our sympathy.
Recent Examples on the Web She is particularly drawn to how Cohen toys with the line between artifice and candor. Jacqui Palumbo, CNN, 4 Aug. 2022 No artifice, no affectation, just an authentic, beautiful and unending source of generosity and love. Rachel Desantis, Peoplemag, 9 Aug. 2022 Can intimacy also emerge from the wreckage of power, beyond doll babies and playacting, beyond the reliance on self-conscious artifice? Naomi Fry, The New Yorker, 8 Aug. 2022 Secrecy and money helped Mr. Fielder pull off the magic trick that is his new reality-style series, which blurs sincerity and artifice to a disarming effect. Ellen Gamerman, WSJ, 6 Aug. 2022 Her heavy makeup only emphasizes that no amount of artifice can improve upon the dismal facts. Robin Givhan, Washington Post, 14 June 2022 Despite the massive amounts of artifice featured throughout the production, this is true. Alan Sepinwall, Rolling Stone, 13 July 2022 The first act is more or less traditional, though with a glowing frame around the action as a subtle reminder of theatrical artifice. New York Times, 6 July 2022 Specifically, machine learning, data science, and shared global intelligence can help identify and stem the artifice and deception. Armen Najarian, Fortune, 17 May 2022 See More

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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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 1 Oct. 2022.

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Kids Definition



ar·​ti·​fice ˈär-tə-fəs How to pronounce artifice (audio)
: a clever trick or device
She used every artifice to avoid work.

Legal Definition



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

More from Merriam-Webster on artifice

Last Updated: 24 Sep 2022

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