cap·​tious ˈkap-shəs How to pronounce captious (audio)
: marked by an often ill-natured inclination to stress faults and raise objections
captious critics
a captious rivalry
: calculated to confuse, entrap, or entangle in argument
a captious question
captiously adverb
captiousness noun

Did you know?

Captious comes from Latin captio, which refers to a deception or verbal quibble. Arguments labeled captious are likely to "capture" a person; they often entrap through subtly deceptive reasoning or trifling points. A captious individual is one who might also be dubbed "hypercritical," the sort of carping, censorious critic only too ready to point out minor faults and raise objections on trivial grounds.

Choose the Right Synonym for captious

critical, hypercritical, faultfinding, captious, carping, censorious mean inclined to look for and point out faults and defects.

critical may also imply an effort to see a thing clearly and truly in order to judge it fairly.

a critical essay

hypercritical suggests a tendency to judge by unreasonably strict standards.

hypercritical disparagement of other people's work

faultfinding implies a querulous or exacting temperament.

a faultfinding reviewer

captious suggests a readiness to detect trivial faults or raise objections on trivial grounds.

a captious critic

carping implies an ill-natured or perverse picking of flaws.

a carping editorial

censorious implies a disposition to be severely critical and condemnatory.

the censorious tone of the review

Examples of captious in a Sentence

a captious and cranky eater who's never met a vegetable he didn't hate
Recent Examples on the Web So much of the new sobriety flex is anathema to the captious alcoholics of 12-step groups. Virginia Heffernan, Wired, 19 Apr. 2022 That a right-wing party traditionally captious about American patriotism did not react heatedly to evidence of Russian interference in US elections is bizarre. Darryl Pinckney, The New York Review of Books, 5 Nov. 2020 Berryman was a captious and self-heating complainer, slow to cool. Anthony Lane, The New Yorker, 12 Oct. 2020

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

Word History


Middle English capcious, from Middle French or Latin; Middle French captieux, from Latin captiosus, from captio deception, verbal quibble, from capere to take — more at heave entry 1

First Known Use

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of captious was in the 14th century


Dictionary Entries Near captious

Cite this Entry

“Captious.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 23 May. 2024.

Kids Definition


cap·​tious ˈkap-shəs How to pronounce captious (audio)
: quick to find fault especially over small things
captiously adverb
captiousness noun

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