adjective fur·tive \ˈfər-tiv\

Definition of furtive

  1. 1a :  done in a quiet and secretive way to avoid being noticed :  surreptitious a furtive glance exchanged furtive smilesb :  expressive of stealth :  sly had a furtive look about him

  2. 2 :  obtained underhandedly :  stolen furtive gains





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Examples of furtive in a sentence

  1. 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

  2. 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

  3. … 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

  4. He cast a furtive glance in our direction.

  5. We exchanged furtive smiles across the table.

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!

Origin and Etymology of 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

First Known Use: 1612

Synonym Discussion of 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

FURTIVE Defined for English Language Learners


adjective fur·tive \ˈfər-tiv\

Definition of furtive for English Language Learners

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

FURTIVE Defined for Kids


adjective fur·tive \ˈfər-tiv\

Definition of furtive for Students

  1. :  done in a sneaky or sly manner a furtive look



Seen and Heard

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quaintly unconventional or refined

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