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

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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 Latin or it may have covered its tracks by arriving via French. (The French furtif derived from the Latin furtivus.) But however "furtive" got into English, the Latin word fur, meaning "thief," is at the root. "Fur" is related to, and may come from, the Greek phōr, which also means "thief." When first used in English in the early 17th century, "furtive" carried a meaning of "done in a way so as not to be seen," though later it also came to mean, less commonly, "stolen." Whichever meaning you choose, the elusive ancestry of "furtive" 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 Lately, bullying others into furtive submission has not been enough for Communist Party chiefs. The Economist, "Chaguan How China’s bullying could backfire," 5 Dec. 2020 To our right, a furtive squirrel buried something in the dirt and dashed off. New York Times, "The Social Life of Forests," 2 Dec. 2020 Scorched and then deprived of sunlight, the plants died, the plant-eating dinosaurs died, the predatory eaters of the plant-eaters died, the furtive shrews emerged from the shadows to inherit the earth. Michael Nesset, Star Tribune, "Just lucky, I guess," 25 Nov. 2020 The couple’s hands do not quite touch; the woman’s wide-eyed gaze and her companion’s furtive mien avoid each other and offer no resolution. Colin B. Bailey, The New York Review of Books, "Suffering, Unfaltering Manet," 17 Nov. 2020 My feeling of furtive anointment was replaced quickly by a flush of embarrassment; putting aside questions of morality, fine dining is decidedly uncool. Hannah Goldfield, The New Yorker, "Eleven Madison Park’s Foie-Gras-Stuffed Chicken To Go," 13 Nov. 2020 Sheep are being mysteriously killed and mutilated; furtive figures lurk in the night. Washington Post, "For your pandemic playlist: 3 new audiobooks that will whisk you away — for a few hours, anyway," 14 Oct. 2020 In its dry season, wildlife enthusiasts flock to see the normally furtive felines lounging on riverbanks, as well as giant river otters, caimans and capybaras. Star Tribune, "Brazil vets work to heal jaguars burned in Pantanal wildfire," 28 Sep. 2020 But other test-taking travails are unique to the pandemic era, including the furtive move to lift your mask to sneak a sip of water. Emma Goldberg, New York Times, "Put Down Your No. 2 Pencils. But Not Your Face Mask.," 27 Sep. 2020

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

Time Traveler

The first known use of furtive was in 1612

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Last Updated

12 Dec 2020

Cite this Entry

“Furtive.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/furtive. Accessed 18 Jan. 2021.

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More Definitions for furtive

furtive

adjective
How to pronounce furtive (audio)

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

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Comments on furtive

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