furtive

adjective
fur·​tive | \ ˈfər-tiv How to pronounce furtive (audio) \

Definition of furtive

1a : done in a quiet and secretive way to avoid being noticed : surreptitious a furtive glance exchanged furtive smiles
b : expressive of stealth : sly had a furtive look about him
2 : obtained underhandedly : stolen furtive gains

Other Words from furtive

furtively adverb
furtiveness noun

Choose the Right Synonym for furtive

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

Did you know?

Furtive has a shadowy history. It may have slipped into English directly from the Latin furtivus or it may have covered its tracks by arriving via the French furtif. We aren't even sure how long it has been a part of the English language. The earliest known written uses of furtive are from the early 1600s, but the derived furtively appears in written form as far back as 1490, suggesting that furtive may have been lurking about for a while. However furtive got into English, its root is the Latin fur, which is related to, and may come from, the Greek phōr (both words mean "thief"). When first used in English, furtive meant "done by stealth," and later also came to mean, less commonly, "stolen." Whichever meaning you choose, the elusive ancestry is particularly fitting, since a thief must be furtive to avoid getting caught in the act.

Examples of furtive in a Sentence

This means that they need use only quantum mechanics or only general relativity and can, with a furtive glance, shrug off the barking admonition of the other. — Brian Greene, The Elegant Universe, 1999 Fall's pleasures were furtive, risky, short-lived-buckeye fights,  … the endless recipes for the apples Mrs. Railsbeck asked him to fetch from the cobwebbed crate in the basement. — Stewart O'Nan, The Names of the Dead, 1996 … it made Shepherd look furtive, wary, hunted—as if the photographer had shot him against his will, in the act of slamming the door. — Helen Garner, The First Stone, 1995 He cast a furtive glance in our direction. We exchanged furtive smiles across the table.
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Recent Examples on the Web Attentive to plaintive or absurd interludes in American life, primarily in New York City and Chicago, Maier made a piecemeal record of the sudden encounters and furtive gestures that turn any street into a guerrilla theater. Jeremy Lybarger, The New Republic, 21 Dec. 2021 Many pass on by, perhaps offering a furtive nod; others ignore his holiday cheer altogether. The Salt Lake Tribune, 18 Dec. 2021 At home with the hot-tempered, whip-smart Lucy and the furtive Cuban dynamo Desi, the drama comes spilling forth. Owen Gleiberman, Variety, 7 Dec. 2021 In that flashforward, the tension ratcheted up with furtive glances at the camera and a request to turn a mic off, until the big bad FBI finally showed up like a classic jump scare. Jodi Walker, EW.com, 8 Nov. 2021 Things seem a bit dark — and there’s a furtive vibe, as if the Poolers have guerrilla-seized a corner of an Ikea. Helen Shaw, Vulture, 11 Nov. 2021 There is something wonderfully comforting in the precise recollection of such furtive memories, like someone quietly opening a door onto a little slice of clarity. New York Times, 9 Nov. 2021 The furtive nature of the internet is rife with cloak-and-dagger attacks. Yec, Forbes, 1 Nov. 2021 The families of nine Americans jailed in Caracas are less hopeful that Saab's legal troubled can be disentangled from the furtive attempts at a détente. CBS News, 17 Oct. 2021

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'furtive.' 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 furtive

1612, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

History and Etymology for furtive

French or Latin; French furtif, from Latin furtivus, from furtum theft, from fur thief, from or akin to Greek phōr thief; akin to Greek pherein to carry — more at bear

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Time Traveler for furtive

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The first known use of furtive was in 1612

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Dictionary Entries Near furtive

furthy

furtive

furtum

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Last Updated

11 Jan 2022

Cite this Entry

“Furtive.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/furtive. Accessed 19 Jan. 2022.

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More Definitions for furtive

furtive

adjective

English Language Learners Definition of furtive

: done in a quiet and secret way to avoid being noticed

furtive

adjective
fur·​tive | \ ˈfər-tiv How to pronounce furtive (audio) \

Kids Definition of furtive

: done in a sneaky or sly manner a furtive look

Other Words from furtive

furtively adverb

More from Merriam-Webster on furtive

Nglish: Translation of furtive for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of furtive for Arabic Speakers

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