: characterized by facility and skill
the photographer's deft use of lighting
the deft fingers of the trumpeter
deftly adverb
deftness noun
Choose the Right Synonym for deft

dexterous, adroit, deft mean ready and skilled in physical movement.

dexterous implies expertness with consequent facility and quickness in manipulation.

unrolled the sleeping bag with a dexterous toss

adroit implies dexterity but usually also stresses resourcefulness or artfulness or inventiveness.

the magician's adroit response to the failure of her prop won applause

deft emphasizes lightness, neatness, and sureness of touch or handling.

a surgeon's deft manipulation of the scalpel

Examples of deft in a Sentence

The photographer is known for her deft use of lighting. a luthier whose deft craftsmanship is prized by violinists the world over
Recent Examples on the Web He’s also known in the Variety newsroom for his deft touch with news-of-the-weird stories that arise on his beats. William Earl, Variety, 16 Feb. 2024 In a deft bit of maneuvering, Tiffany had gotten his hands on the 20 miles of surplus cable left coiled in the Niagara’s holds. Robert Klara, Smithsonian Magazine, 15 Feb. 2024 And, of course, in noisy situations, some subtleties are lost, though the deft delivery of the earbuds stops you from missing too much. David Phelan, Forbes, 15 Feb. 2024 First, the United States could employ deft diplomacy to accommodate the grievances of actors such as Iran and Russia that seek to revise the status quo in their favor. Stephen Wertheim, Foreign Affairs, 14 Feb. 2024 The diminutive attacker picked the ball up on the right touchline, before beating his defender with a deft body-feint. Ben Church, CNN, 14 Feb. 2024 Disney’s decades-old elixir of entertainingly telling coming-of-age tales simple enough to capture kids and yet essential enough — with deft humor and other touches — to sustain adults, is universally appealing. Christopher Smith, Orange County Register, 2 Feb. 2024 Brookman’s presentation puts Lange’s deft touch front and center. Kriston Capps, Washington Post, 31 Jan. 2024 The resulting film, an A24 production launched at Sundance, walks a deft line between the ironic and the honestly receptive: Hardline skeptics will be entertained, others peculiarly affected. Guy Lodge, Variety, 25 Jan. 2024 See More

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

Word History


perhaps continuing Middle English daffte, daft, defte "well-mannered, gentle, dull, foolish" — more at daft

Note: Rather than being derived directly from Middle English, Modern English deft may go back to an unattested Old English *gedefte (with umlaut), with a meaning "fit, ready" developing to "apt, skilfull"; the sense shift is otherwise difficult to account for, though the lack of any certain attestation of deft in the sense "skillful" before the later 16th century makes this scenario hypothetical.

First Known Use

15th century, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of deft was in the 15th century

Dictionary Entries Near deft

Cite this Entry

“Deft.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/deft. Accessed 3 Mar. 2024.

Kids Definition


: quick and skillful in action
knitting with deft fingers
deftly adverb
deftness noun

More from Merriam-Webster on deft

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