cunning

adjective
cun·​ning | \ ˈkə-niŋ How to pronounce cunning (audio) \

Definition of cunning

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 : dexterous or crafty in the use of special resources (such as skill or knowledge) or in attaining an end a cunning plotter
2 : characterized by wiliness and trickery cunning schemes
3 : prettily appealing : cute a cunning little kitten
4 : displaying keen insight a cunning observation

cunning

noun

Definition of cunning (Entry 2 of 2)

1 : dexterous skill and subtlety (as in inventing, devising, or executing) high-ribbed vault … with perfect cunning framed— William Wordsworth
2 : craft, slyness

3 obsolete

b : magic art

Keep scrolling for more

Other Words from cunning

Adjective

cunningly \ ˈkə-​niŋ-​lē How to pronounce cunningly (audio) \ adverb
cunningness noun

Choose the Right Synonym for cunning

Adjective

clever, adroit, cunning, ingenious mean having or showing practical wit or skill in contriving. clever stresses physical or mental quickness, deftness, or great aptitude. a person clever with horses adroit often implies a skillful use of expedients to achieve one's purpose in spite of difficulties. an adroit negotiator cunning implies great skill in constructing or creating. a filmmaker cunning in his use of special effects ingenious suggests the power of inventing or discovering a new way of accomplishing something. an ingenious software engineer

sly, cunning, crafty, wily, tricky, foxy, artful, slick mean attaining or seeking to attain one's ends by guileful or devious means. sly implies furtiveness, lack of candor, and skill in concealing one's aims and methods. a sly corporate raider cunning suggests the inventive use of sometimes limited intelligence in overreaching or circumventing. the cunning fox avoided the trap crafty implies cleverness and subtlety of method. a crafty lefthander wily implies skill and deception in maneuvering. the wily fugitive escaped the posse tricky is more likely to suggest shiftiness and unreliability than skill in deception and maneuvering. a tricky political operative foxy implies a shrewd and wary craftiness usually involving devious dealing. a foxy publicity man planting stories artful implies indirectness in dealing and often connotes sophistication or cleverness. elicited the information by artful questioning slick emphasizes smoothness and guile. slick operators selling time-sharing

Noun

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 cunning in a Sentence

Adjective

… this cat has made his way into the Fitness Center for cunning reasons of his own and reveals himself only to certain privileged individuals. — Joyce Carol Oates, Harper's, June 2008 Throughout his time hunting the vampire, Manolito had been wounded and poisoned on many occasions, but still he'd survived because he'd always used his brain. He was cunning and shrewd and very intelligent. — Christine Feehan, Dark Possession, 2007 I have recounted the advice I received from an old-timer about how to keep raccoons out of garbage cans—advice that eventually included the purchase of a combination lock. ("A raccoon's cunning, but he's got no head for figures.") — Calvin Trillin, New Yorker, 11 Oct. 1993 A cunning politician is often found skulking under the clerical robe, with an outside all religion, and an inside all political rancour. — Washington Irving, A History of New York, 1809, in History, Tales and Sketches(1977) 1983 So the Leader went into his den and looked at his children—two very cunning little cubs, lying on the floor. — Hugh Lofting, The Story of Doctor Dolittle, 1920 She was cunning enough to fool me. a cunning, underhanded plan to win the election by preying on people's fears and prejudices

Noun

The writing is best in the play's later scenes, when More deploys his legal cunning to help him weasel out of a political trap set by the oleaginous Thomas Cromwell … — John Lahr, New Yorker, 20 Oct. 2008 Tsvetaeva was lacking, moreover, in any instinct for cunning or self-preservation, or even for what might be called mere getting along … — Claudia Roth Pierpont, New Yorker, 7 Feb. 1994 He could see no change, save that in the eyes there was a look of cunning and in the mouth the curved wrinkle of the hypocrite. — Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray, 1891 He may be a fraud, but you have to admire his cunning. the cunning with which Tom Sawyer was able to get others to whitewash the fence for him
See More

Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective

The bot, called Pluribus, is a leap forward in the capabilities of artificial intelligence—and also a cunning player of Texas Hold ’em. Daniela Hernandez, WSJ, "Computers Can Now Bluff Like a Poker Champ. Better, Actually.," 11 July 2019 Coming to Theaters June 21 Anna R Anna has a mesmerizing beauty but beneath the surface lies an assassin who can harness her cunning mind and incredible skills to eliminate a target quickly. Guy Hanford, Ramona Sentinel, "Flickers: ‘Child’s Play’ and ‘Toy Story 4’ open Friday," 20 June 2019 Under normal circumstances even the most cunning players will sometimes lose. Quanta Magazine, "The Universe’s Ultimate Complexity Revealed by Simple Quantum Games," 5 Mar. 2019 In the cunning afterlife comedy’s most emotional episode to date, Judge Jen (Maya Rudolph) had granted reforming Bad Place architect Michael (Ted Danson) one last chance to prove his theory that human beings can indeed evolve. Dan Snierson, EW.com, "The Good Place creator teases new characters in final season," 11 June 2019 Soccer is such a low-scoring sport by comparison with others that the margins for success and failure are particularly small; this means that acts of gamesmanship—a sly foul here, a cunning dive there—can be especially pivotal. Musa Okwonga, Quartz Africa, "How to make the case for and against VAR—video assistant referee—in the beautiful game," 10 June 2019 On top of that, Tyrion Lannister, supposedly the most cunning man in Westeros, still believed that his sister, Cersei, could be convinced not fighting a war to keep the throne. Erica Gonzales, Harper's BAZAAR, "Viewers Were Really Unhappy with Game of Thrones Season 8 Episode 5," 13 May 2019 In China and elsewhere, some Amazon sellers resort to cunning techniques to manipulate product listings, get one of those top spots, and boost their sales. Jon Emont, WSJ, "How Scammers in China Manipulate Amazon," 17 Dec. 2018 Getting a plan from a think tank and into the real world requires cunning, legislative agility, political acumen and courage. Chris Stirewalt, Fox News, "Trump's favorite county," 3 Aug. 2018

Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

The game takes a more low-tech approach to bypassing deck construction, throwing players straight into a battle of cunning, cleverness, and giant spiky demons. Owen Duffy, Ars Technica, "Sorcerer’s greatest trick? Shrinking a CCG experience into a single box," 22 June 2019 Near Carrhae, a town in what is now Turkey, Crassus engaged the Parthian forces, led by General Surenas who fought with cunning and patience. Andrea Frediani, National Geographic, "Money was not enough for Crassus, the richest man in Rome," 11 June 2019 Such cunning likely would lessen if alcohol were available out in the open on Kyle’s concourses, even if fake binocular makers would pay the price. Brent Zwerneman, ExpressNews.com, "Texas A&M treading carefully on whether to sell alcohol at sports events," 5 June 2019 The most appealing, or rather the least obviously terrible, of these is Khrushchev (a superb Steve Buscemi), the minister of agriculture and a cunning, outwardly drab schemer. Manohla Dargis, New York Times, "Review: The Slapstick Horror of ‘The Death of Stalin’," 8 Mar. 2018 If Chicago politicians applied as much cunning to solving their fiscal problems as financially engineering their way out of them, the city would be a triple-A credit. The Editorial Board, WSJ, "Chicago Has Another Bond for You," 17 Aug. 2018 The fiction in this sci-fi was Ava: a truly convincing humanoid, powered by A.I., with all the cunning and guile of a Machiavellian human. Kevin Dupzyk, Popular Mechanics, "How 'Ex Machina' Foresaw the Weaponization of Data," 16 Jan. 2019 For many writers, a boring existence is a calculated choice, and few have pursued the strategy with the cunning of the Greek poet Constantine Cavafy (1863-1933). Sam Sacks, WSJ, "Fiction Books: A Few Days in Paris With Constantine Cavafy," 11 Oct. 2018 Making his film debut, Richie Merritt plays Rick as a sullen, evidently stupid and certainly uncharismatic schemer in possession of a modicum of animal cunning and perhaps a hint of personal insight. John Anderson, WSJ, "‘White Boy Rick’ Review: Trafficking Drugs, Guns and Info," 13 Sep. 2018

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

See More

First Known Use of cunning

Adjective

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Noun

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 3a

History and Etymology for cunning

Adjective and Noun

Middle English, from present participle of can know

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about cunning

Statistics for cunning

Last Updated

15 Jul 2019

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for cunning

The first known use of cunning was in the 14th century

See more words from the same century

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for cunning

cunning

adjective

English Language Learners Definition of cunning

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: getting what is wanted in a clever and often deceptive way

cunning

noun

English Language Learners Definition of cunning (Entry 2 of 2)

: cleverness or skill especially at tricking people in order to get something

cunning

adjective
cun·​ning | \ ˈkə-niŋ How to pronounce cunning (audio) \

Kids Definition of cunning

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 : skillful and clever at using special knowledge or at getting something done a cunning craftsman
2 : showing craftiness and trickery a cunning plot a cunning thief

cunning

noun

Kids Definition of cunning (Entry 2 of 2)

1 : skill sense 1, dexterity … they … felt the love of beautiful things made by hands and by cunning— J. R. R. Tolkien, The Hobbit
2 : cleverness or skill especially at tricking people in order to get something … she had been defeated by the superior cunning of the aged witch …— L. Frank Baum, The Marvelous Land of Oz

Keep scrolling for more

More from Merriam-Webster on cunning

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with cunning

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for cunning

Spanish Central: Translation of cunning

Nglish: Translation of cunning for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of cunning for Arabic Speakers

Comments on cunning

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

WORD OF THE DAY

providing supplementary assistance

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Farm Idioms Quiz

  • cow coming home
  • What does 'poke' refer to in the expression 'pig in a poke'?
True or False

Test your knowledge - and maybe learn something along the way.

TAKE THE QUIZ
SCRABBLE® Sprint

Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.

TAKE THE QUIZ
Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!