clan·​des·​tine klan-ˈde-stən How to pronounce clandestine (audio)
 also  -ˌstīn or -ˌstēn,
 or  ˈklan-də-
: marked by, held in, or conducted with secrecy : surreptitious
a clandestine love affair
clandestinely adverb
clandestineness noun
clandestinity noun

Did you know?

In 1658, the English poet John Milton wrote of "clandestine Hostility cover'd over with the name of Peace." Today, clandestine is used in much the same way. The word often substitutes for secret and covert, and it is commonly applied to actions that involve secrecy maintained for an evil, illicit, or unauthorized purpose. It comes to English by way of Middle French, from Latin clandestinus, which is itself from Latin clam, meaning "secretly."

Choose the Right Synonym for clandestine

secret, covert, stealthy, furtive, clandestine, surreptitious, underhanded mean done without attracting observation.

secret implies concealment on any grounds for any motive.

met at a secret location

covert stresses the fact of not being open or declared.

covert intelligence operations

stealthy suggests taking pains to avoid being seen or heard especially in some misdoing.

the stealthy step of a burglar

furtive implies a sly or cautious stealthiness.

lovers exchanging furtive glances

clandestine implies secrecy usually for an evil, illicit, or unauthorized purpose and often emphasizes the fear of being discovered.

a clandestine meeting of conspirators

surreptitious applies to action or behavior done secretly often with skillful avoidance of detection and in violation of custom, law, or authority.

the surreptitious stockpiling of weapons

underhanded stresses fraud or deception.

an underhanded trick

Examples of clandestine in a Sentence

The clandestine meetings, the passing back and forth of messages between Lodge and the plotters, the coaxing along of the generals, all had the emotional lift of a strong amphetamine. Neil Sheehan, A Bright Shining Lie, 1988
The CIA's great innovation has been to concentrate in peacetime on 'covert action'—that is, the use of clandestine means to challenge policies and regimes in other countries. Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., The Cycles of American History, 1986
And Pym was in London for a conference—no, he wasn't, he was attending a three-day course on the latest methods of clandestine communication in a beastly little training house off Smith Square. John le Carré, A Perfect Spy, 1986
I took a clandestine peek at the price tag on the diamond necklace.
Recent Examples on the Web What’s impenetrable about the stock market — the manipulations, the rule-changing, the clandestine deals — is made crystal-clear. Robert Abele, Los Angeles Times, 15 Sep. 2023 The trailer shows Dallas working to use his father’s clandestine research to help shed light on the family’s mysterious past. Ryan Gajewski, The Hollywood Reporter, 14 Sep. 2023 One of Penn’s magic passes took him on a 2015 clandestine trip to Mexico for a meeting with fugitive drug kingpin/murderer El Chapo for Rolling Stone. Stephen Rodrick, Variety, 13 Sep. 2023 But even as the United States and Vietnam have nurtured their relationship over recent months, Hanoi is making clandestine plans to buy an arsenal of weapons from Russia in contravention of American sanctions, an internal Vietnamese government document shows. Hannah Beech, New York Times, 9 Sep. 2023 The senator’s tirade later took on a more conspiratorial tone, citing a Washington Post report that the Pentagon was reviewing clandestine military influence operations to shape public opinion, with Lee suggesting without evidence that those systems may have been turned against Tuberville. Bryan Schott, The Salt Lake Tribune, 8 Sep. 2023 Upon arrival, guests are led to a private check-in, commencing the clandestine journey ahead of them. Dania Lucero Ortiz, Town & Country, 30 Aug. 2023 His press service offered no details of the unusually clandestine farewell, except to say that those who wished to say goodbye could visit Porokhovskoye cemetery. Mikhail Klimentov, Washington Post, 29 Aug. 2023 Patti Perret In many ways, Bottoms is a departure from Seligman’s 2020 debut feature, Shiva Baby, which deals with uncertain futures, clandestine affairs, and overbearing elders in the claustrophobic setting of a shiva house. Nadine Zylberberg, ELLE, 25 Aug. 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'clandestine.' 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 French or Latin; Middle French clandestin, from Latin clandestinus, from clam secretly; akin to Latin celare to hide — more at hell

First Known Use

circa 1528, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of clandestine was circa 1528


Dictionary Entries Near clandestine

Cite this Entry

“Clandestine.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 23 Sep. 2023.

Kids Definition


clan·​des·​tine klan-ˈdes-tən How to pronounce clandestine (audio)
: done in secret
a clandestine meeting
clandestinely adverb

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