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 But with entrenched partisan politics, fragmented media platforms and the unemployment rate at a 50-year low, many people may be relegated to hunching down in their cubicles and sneaking furtive glances on their smart phones. Robert Channick, chicagotribune.com, "Will Trump impeachment hearings be must-see TV at work?," 13 Nov. 2019 The emerging scenes of furtive crossings reflect an important change in dynamics on the border. New York Times, "Desperate Migrants on the Border: ‘I Should Just Swim Across’," 29 Sep. 2019 The rejoinder to all this is that the furtive and ambiguous nature of the interaction with the Ukrainians may well point to a cognizance of its impropriety. Rich Lowry, National Review, "The Best Trump Defense," 1 Nov. 2019 Hahn locates some inspired behavioral nuggets throughout: Watch, for example, her flustered, gently slapsticky departure after an unexpected kiss, or her furtive glances at the high-risk texts sent by smitten Julian. Michael Phillips, chicagotribune.com, "‘Mrs. Fletcher’ HBO review: Kathryn Hahn offers a bracing seriocomic lesson in continuing sex-ed," 25 Oct. 2019 So it was actually meant to be jarring: beautiful surroundings with long faces and furtive glances, not people enjoying themselves. Rachel Syme, The New Yorker, "Let’s Talk About the Yacht Clothes on “Succession”," 14 Oct. 2019 Two National Review pieces on Monday made a furtive effort to carve out a more nuanced view of the Trump-Ukraine saga than what the White House has heretofore been capable of producing. Matt Ford, The New Republic, "National Review’s Strained Defense of Trump," 8 Oct. 2019 But Duch had a retort for the furtive Brother Number Two. Washington Post, "Nuon Chea, Khmer Rouge’s infamous ‘Brother Number Two,’ dies at 93," 4 Aug. 2019 There is something furtive and nearly supernatural about his photographs. Amanda Petrusich, The New Yorker, "Wanting to See Like Robert Frank," 10 Sep. 2019

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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Last Updated

29 Nov 2019

Cite this Entry

“Furtive.” The Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/furtive?pronunciation&lang=en_us&dir=f&file=furtiv01. Accessed 5 December 2019.

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More Definitions for furtive


How to pronounce furtive (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of furtive

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


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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More from Merriam-Webster on furtive

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for furtive

Spanish Central: Translation of furtive

Nglish: Translation of furtive for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of furtive for Arabic Speakers

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