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
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 Oakland’s wild-card starter, Sean Manaea, also reflected a cunning front office move. Tyler Kepner, New York Times, "Rays Top the A’s in a Wild-Card Matchup of Overachievers," 2 Oct. 2019 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: ‘Downton Abbey’ leads in the box office," 27 Sep. 2019 If investors say yes, the exchange has to buy Refinitiv once regulatory approval comes through, assuming there’s no cunning legal get-out. Chris Hughes | Bloomberg, Washington Post, "LSE Puts a Ring of Steel Around Its Refinitiv Deal," 1 Aug. 2019 Icelanders, meanwhile, have found a cunning way to get refunds. The Economist, "Why so many non-religious Europeans pay church taxes," 12 Sep. 2019 And yet, Yanis may just be stubborn and cunning enough to get the job done, rushing from meeting to meeting, and from official to official, in a labyrinthine pursuit to plead his case. Jordan Mintzer, The Hollywood Reporter, "'Adults in the Room': Film Review | Venice 2019," 31 Aug. 2019 Some speculate, longingly, that the business-bashing is part of a cunning strategy to distance himself from the wealthy in order, when the time comes, to reform India’s stifling labour laws. The Economist, "India Inc is growing disenchanted with Narendra Modi," 17 Aug. 2019 In negotiating these disputes, Isabella would prove to be as cunning as her older brother Henry was inept. National Geographic, "To seize power in Spain, Queen Isabella had to play it smart," 28 Mar. 2019 Also in the movie's a corner: a cunning release strategy by Sony and its studio chief Tom Rothman. Isaac Feldberg, Fortune, "‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’ Overperforms With $40 Million Debut—But Can Its Spell Last?," 29 July 2019 Recent Examples on the Web: Noun El Mencho eventually joined the Milenio Cartel, gaining a reputation as a cunning sicario, or hitman, and then a boss of hitmen in Guadalajara, Jalisco's capital city. Beth Warren, courier-journal.com, "A ruthless Mexican drug lord’s empire is devastating families with its grip on small-town USA," 25 Nov. 2019 Mystery writer and game aficionado Andrew Wyke invites his wife’s lover, Milo Tindle, to his mousetrap of a country estate for a dangerous game of one-upmanship that keeps audiences guessing through every cunning twist and turn. Andrea Simakis, cleveland, "Great Lakes Theater’s ‘The Music Man’ and ‘Julius Caesar’ spotlight con men and conspirators: Fall Theater Preview 2019," 29 Sep. 2019 The transaction shows off Berry’s tactical cunning and opportunism, and exposes a miscalculation by Apollo. Chris Hughes | Bloomberg, Washington Post, "Nothing Comes Between Goldman Sachs and a Deal," 9 Mar. 2019 And knowing the cunning of Taylor Swift, there may be a chance for Alwyn to jump on a track in the future. Natalie Morin, refinery29.com, "Is That A Joe Alwyn Cameo On Lover?," 24 Aug. 2019 Don’t fall victim to someone’s cunning and manipulative ways. Eugenia Last, The Mercury News, "Horoscopes: Aug. 7, 2019," 7 Aug. 2019 All but his most febrile enemies will concede his cunning, determination, and stamina, and, in a slightly rabble-rousing way, his panache. Conrad Black, National Review, "Trump’s Only Real Weakness Is His Style," 11 Sep. 2019 The cunning, resilient maneuvers of the crew, the women specifically, prevented major conflict, or accidental death. Nathan Taylor Pemberton, The New Yorker, "“The Raft” Chronicles an Extreme Experiment with Human Nature," 18 July 2019 PowPAC newcomer Eliza Huf as Elyot’s 20-years-younger bride Sybil is charming in the role, with Huf finding just the right mix of naive innocence and cunning. Pomerado News, "REVIEW: PowPAC’s ‘Private Lives’ is full of comedy and action," 21 Aug. 2019

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

Time Traveler for cunning

Time Traveler

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

See more words from the same century

Statistics for cunning

Last Updated

18 Nov 2019

Cite this Entry

“Cunning.” The Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/cunningly. Accessed 5 December 2019.

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for cunning

cunning

adjective
How to pronounce cunning (audio)

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

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for cunning

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with 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

to accept, comply, or submit

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Semantic Drift Quiz

  • a twisty river
  • Which of the following was once a synonym for fun?
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?

TAKE THE QUIZ
Syn City

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!