fur·​tive ˈfər-tiv How to pronounce furtive (audio)
: done in a quiet and secretive way to avoid being noticed : surreptitious
a furtive glance
exchanged furtive smiles
: expressive of stealth : sly
had a furtive look about him
: obtained underhandedly : stolen
furtive gains
furtively adverb
furtiveness noun

Did you know?

Furtive comes from either Latin furtivus or French furtif. The earliest known written uses of furtive are from the early 1600s. When first used in English, furtive meant "done by stealth," and later also came to mean, less commonly, "stolen." Whichever meaning you choose, the word has an elusive ancestry, which is particularly fitting, since a thief must be furtive to avoid getting caught in the act.

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

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.
Recent Examples on the Web The furtive nature of the payments raises further questions about how many such payments were orchestrated, whether legitimate services were actually rendered, and whether such payments required additional reporting by Justice Thomas. Jennifer Rubin, Washington Post, 11 July 2024 But unfortunately, all the furtive moments between the couple have only fueled my appetite for full-on debauchery in season two. Samantha Allen, Them, 10 July 2024 Until now, homosexuality in Maestro has played out in foot rubs, furtive glances, and a single kiss. Jason P. Frank, Vulture, 28 Feb. 2024 In 2017, Ditko made a furtive appearance at New York Comic Con after staff talked him into checking it out, hoping to court him as a special guest, but in a sea of cosplay spider-people, no one recognized Ditko. Jay Deitcher, Rolling Stone, 2 July 2024 See all Example Sentences for furtive 

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

Word History


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

First Known Use

1612, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

Time Traveler
The first known use of furtive was in 1612


Dictionary Entries Near furtive

Cite this Entry

“Furtive.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/furtive. Accessed 20 Jul. 2024.

Kids Definition


fur·​tive ˈfərt-iv How to pronounce furtive (audio)
: done in a sneaky or sly manner
a furtive look
furtively adverb
furtiveness noun

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