1 of 3


: intellectually alert : having or characteristic of a quick penetrating mind
a keen student
a keen awareness of the problem
also : shrewdly astute
a keen assessment
: extremely sensitive in perception
keen eyes
a keen sense of smell
: sharply contested
keen competition
keen debate
: showing a quick and ardent responsiveness : enthusiastic
a keen swimmer
: eager
was keen to begin
of emotion or feeling : intense
the keen delight in the chaseF. W. Maitland
: wonderful, excellent
a keen idea
: having a fine edge or point : sharp
a knife with a keen blade
: affecting one as if by cutting
keen sarcasm
: pungent to the sense
a keen scent
keenly adverb
keenness noun


2 of 3


keened; keening; keens

intransitive verb

: to make a loud and long cry of sorrow : to lament with a keen
: to make a sound suggestive of a loud cry of sorrow
a keening siren
: to lament, mourn, or complain loudly

transitive verb

: to utter with a loud wailing voice or wordless cry
keened our sorrowPunch
keener noun


3 of 3


: a lamentation for the dead uttered in a loud wailing voice or sometimes in a wordless cry
keen on
: very enthusiastic or excited about
wasn't keen on going
Choose the Right Synonym for keen

sharp, keen, acute mean having or showing alert competence and clear understanding.

sharp implies quick perception, clever resourcefulness, or sometimes questionable trickiness.

sharp enough to spot a confidence game

keen suggests quickness, enthusiasm, and a penetrating mind.

a keen observer of the political scene

acute implies a power to penetrate and may suggest subtlety and sharpness of discrimination.

an acute sense of style

eager, avid, keen, anxious, athirst mean moved by a strong and urgent desire or interest.

eager implies ardor and enthusiasm and sometimes impatience at delay or restraint.

eager to get started

avid adds to eager the implication of insatiability or greed.

avid for new thrills

keen suggests intensity of interest and quick responsiveness in action.

keen on the latest fashions

anxious emphasizes fear of frustration or failure or disappointment.

anxious not to make a social blunder

athirst stresses yearning but not necessarily readiness for action.

athirst for adventure

Examples of keen in a Sentence

Adjective When you've been trying to remember something and you suddenly remember it, the mental pleasure is keen. Ian Frazier, Atlantic, October 2004
Indeed, tobacco processors were keen to promote variety even further by saturating and mixing the cut and spun leaf with a miscellany of spices … Simon Schama, The Embarrassment of Riches, 1988
But Mary wasn't keen on braving the Athens streets alone so Magnus went instead; Mary would do a museum in the morning. John le Carré, A Perfect Spy, 1986
That he took a keen interest in scientific navigation is indicated by his keeping a daybook or journal (which has not survived), and by making an honest effort to determine longitude. Samuel Eliot Morison, The European Discovery of America, 1971
The keen clear wind swept in on his left cheek, and as he bore on the helm so the Sophie answered, quicker and more nervous than he had expected. Patrick O'Brian, Master and Commander, 1970
Planting himself squarely before the two tall cowboys who were standing, he looked straight into their lean, bronzed faces. He spared a full moment for that keen cool gaze before he spoke. Zane Grey, Desert Gold, 1913
She's a very keen observer of the political world. pilots with especially keen eyesight Verb mourners keening at a funeral victims of the disaster have been keening for weeks about the slowness of governmental aid Noun the loud keens of the widows were heard throughout the war-ravaged city
Recent Examples on the Web
Businesses should also be investing more in learning and development courses for their workforce and maintaining a keen focus on retaining a stellar reputation. John Kell, Fortune, 13 May 2024 The couple are keen travelers and often head out on adventures together. Emma Kershaw, Peoplemag, 12 May 2024 See all Example Sentences for keen 

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

Word History


Adjective and Noun

Middle English kene brave, sharp, from Old English cēne brave; akin to Old High German kuoni brave


Irish caoinim I lament, weep

First Known Use


13th century, in the meaning defined at sense 4a


1845, in the meaning defined at intransitive sense 1a


1830, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of keen was in the 13th century

Dictionary Entries Near keen

Cite this Entry

“Keen.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 20 May. 2024.

Kids Definition


1 of 3 adjective
: having a sharp edge or point
a keen knife
: seeming to cut or sting
a keen wind
: full of enthusiasm
keen about baseball
: having or showing mental sharpness
a keen mind
: very sensitive (as in seeing or hearing)
keen eyesight
: very nice : wonderful
gee, that's keen
keenly adverb
keenness noun


2 of 3 verb
: to mourn in a loud wailing voice


3 of 3 noun
: a mourning for the dead with loud wails

More from Merriam-Webster on keen

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