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

Keep scrolling for more

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.
See More
Recent Examples on the Web Some songs resembled techno anthems slowed to a crawl; others seemed like furtive experiments in rendering the sound of a trickling stream with a synthesizer. Hua Hsu, The New Yorker, "Beverly Glenn-Copeland’s Music for a Future That Never Came," 14 Sep. 2020 In the dry season, wildlife enthusiasts flock to see the normally furtive jaguars lounging on riverbanks, along with macaws, caimans and capybaras. DÉbora Alvares, Star Tribune, "Battle on to save Brazil's tropical wetlands from flames," 13 Sep. 2020 From a distance, there's something furtive about Anderson's Conn Valley Vineyards. Esther Mobley, SFChronicle.com, "Anderson’s Conn Valley: a humble home near Howell Mountain," 13 Aug. 2020 Whatever the reason—ostentatious littering, the mad desire for a furtive lockdown high—the cannisters are ubiquitous in London this summer. Anna Russell, The New Yorker, "The Laughing-Gas Wars of London," 4 Aug. 2020 Arctic populations are thought to be healthier, but the animal’s furtive nature and the vast area each one covers pose a challenge to scientists. Smithsonian Magazine, "Beasts of the Northern Wild," 10 Mar. 2020 Soon, on a hot June night, a furtive pain traveled from my right elbow to my palm, back and forth, through and through, like a fractious child jumping between hopscotch courts with his full body gravity, determined and ferocious. Longreads, "A Survey of My Right Arm," 4 Mar. 2020 Imagine fridges reprimanding us for our furtive late-night snacks. Adrian Woolfson, WSJ, "‘Girl Decoded’ Review: The Soulfulness of a New Machine," 2 June 2020 In Schumpeter’s limited experience, pot-smoking has always been something of a furtive activity. The Economist, "Schumpeter Farewell for now to a golden age of drinking," 23 May 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.

See More

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

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about furtive

Time Traveler for furtive

Time Traveler

The first known use of furtive was in 1612

See more words from the same year

Listen to Our Podcast about furtive

Statistics for furtive

Last Updated

19 Sep 2020

Cite this Entry

“Furtive.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/furtive. Accessed 26 Sep. 2020.

Keep scrolling for more

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

Keep scrolling for more

Comments on furtive

What made you want to look up furtive? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).

WORD OF THE DAY

Test Your Vocabulary

Challenging Vocabulary Quiz Returns!

  • stylized drawing of woman pole vaulting across gap to get trophy
  • Which is a synonym of fuliginous?
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?

TAKE THE QUIZ
Citation

Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.

TAKE THE QUIZ
Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!