fi·​nesse | \ fə-ˈnes How to pronounce finesse (audio) \

Definition of finesse

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 : refinement or delicacy of workmanship, structure, or texture trinkets of an extreme finesse— Arnold Rosin
2 : skillful handling of a situation : adroit maneuvering She handled the interviewer's questions with finesse.
3 : the withholding of one's highest card or trump in the hope that a lower card will take the trick because the only opposing higher card is in the hand of an opponent who has already played


finessed; finessing

Definition of finesse (Entry 2 of 2)

intransitive verb

: to make a finesse in playing cards

transitive verb

1 : to play (a card) in a finesse
2a : to bring about, direct, or manage by adroit maneuvering finesse his way through tight places— Marquis James
b : evade, skirt finesse the hard issues

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Finesse Started Out as a Noun


Finesse was a noun for more than 200 years before it became a verb. In the early 16th century the noun finesse was used to refer to refinement or delicacy of workmanship, structure, or texture. Soon thereafter it developed the "skillful handling of a situation" meaning most common today. The first use of the verb finesse, however, was not as a corollary of one of these meanings. Instead, its meaning had to do with cards: if you finesse in a game like bridge or whist, you withhold your highest card or trump in the hope that a lower card will take the trick because the only opposing higher card is in the hand of an opponent who has already played. The other verb meanings of finesse developed within a few decades of this one.

Examples of finesse in a Sentence

Noun She handled the interview questions with finesse. maneuvered his opponent into checkmate with his customary finesse Verb He managed to finesse a deal through bargaining. She is just trying to finesse the issue.
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Recent Examples on the Web: Noun The Purists’’ does it with impressive finesse and no small amount of theatrical fire., "THE PURISTS," 13 Sep. 2019 The central subject of the play, directed with sharp finesse by Adrienne Campbell-Holt, could hardly be more topical: mandatory vaccinations for children. Ben Brantley, New York Times, "Review: Opinions Collide in the Explosive Comedy ‘Eureka Day’," 29 Aug. 2019 Make positive changes that are planned and executed with finesse. Eugenia Last, The Mercury News, "Horoscopes: Aug. 24, 2019," 24 Aug. 2019 Shaqir possesses moderate speed and handles the ball with finesse in the open court. Dana Scott, azcentral, "Shaquille O'Neal's youngest son, Shaqir, chasing basketball dream at NCAA West Region College Basketball Academy," 26 July 2019 Soon after taking the Michigan basketball job, Howard offered Christopher, a physically dominant 6-foot-4, 200-pound shooting guard who pairs brute strength with finesse and elite athleticism. Matthew Bain, Detroit Free Press, "Michigan basketball making serious headway with 5-star Joshua Christopher," 12 July 2019 Colorado’s graduate transfer from Southern Methodist University used to be a cornerback and receiver, and finesse football was his thing. Mike Chambers, The Denver Post, "Hard-hitting safety Mikial Onu another one of CU’s likely starting grad transfers," 21 Aug. 2019 Florentine artisans balance finesse and splendor, which is, in a nutshell, what the Renaissance was actually about. Tiziana Cardini, Vogue, "A Century-Old Florentine Atelier Looks to the Future With Its First Resort Collection," 14 June 2019 Sané has been a vocal and physical leader for the defense, balancing out the burly aggression of Robin Jansson with finesse and speed. Julia Poe, Pro Soccer USA, "Three things we learned from Orlando City’s 3-3 draw with the New England Revolution," 17 Sep. 2019 Recent Examples on the Web: Verb Programmable driving modes can finesse the power and suspension settings. Mark Maynard, San Diego Union-Tribune, "2019 VW Arteon: a cure for the common sedan," 6 Sep. 2019 Top-down signals might contextualize or finesse what is perceived, but nothing more. Anil K. Seth, Scientific American, "The Neuroscience of Reality," 27 Aug. 2019 This all comes at a time when the foreign affairs menu is adding hearty entrees that will take time, resources, and finesse to tackle. Tovin Lapan, Fortune, "Trump Administration Turnover Leads to Foreign Policy Turmoil," 23 Aug. 2019 Your immediate impulse might be to finesse with dummy’s queen. Frank Stewart, The Mercury News, "Bridge: Aug. 9, 2019," 9 Aug. 2019 Someone with rhetorical chops could finesse that evolution. Joe Garofoli,, "Five takeaways from the Democrats’ policy brawls," 31 July 2019 Since opinion polls imply that forcing people to give up their existing plans is a big negative, Harris is well advised to finesse the argument by leaving existing plans in place. Michael Hiltzik, Los Angeles Times, "Column: Kamala Harris joins the club with a solid ‘Medicare for all’ proposal," 29 July 2019 Accompanying the duo are several of Shiro Jin's ethnically and racially diverse minions, played with tremendous energy, if not always finesse, by Badia Farha, Jasmine Forsberg, Omar Garibay, Jared Joseph and Christina Sajous. Frank Scheck, The Hollywood Reporter, "'Broadway Bounty Hunter': Theater Review," 24 July 2019 So the Cynic shrugged, drew trumps and led a club to finesse with dummy’s queen. Frank Stewart, The Mercury News, "Bridge: July 7, 2019," 7 July 2019

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

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First Known Use of finesse


15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1


1742, in the meaning defined at intransitive sense

History and Etymology for finesse


Middle English, "fineness," borrowed from Middle French, "fineness, subtlety, ruse, trick," from fin fine entry 1 + -esse, suffix forming abstract nouns from adjectives, going back to Latin -itia (with phonetic development as if from -icia) — more at -ice


derivative of finesse entry 1

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Statistics for finesse

Last Updated

25 Oct 2019

Time Traveler for finesse

The first known use of finesse was in the 15th century

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More Definitions for finesse


How to pronounce finesse (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of finesse

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: skill and cleverness that is shown in the way someone deals with a situation, problem, etc.



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

: to handle, deal with, or do (something) in an indirect and skillful or clever way

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More from Merriam-Webster on finesse

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for finesse

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with finesse

Spanish Central: Translation of finesse

Nglish: Translation of finesse for Spanish Speakers

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