sa·​ga·​cious sə-ˈgā-shəs How to pronounce sagacious (audio)
: of keen and farsighted penetration and judgment : discerning
sagacious judge of character
: caused by or indicating acute discernment
sagacious purchase of stock
obsolete : keen in sense perception
sagaciously adverb
sagaciousness noun

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The Surprising Root of Sagacious

You might expect the root of sagacious to be sage, which, as an adjective, means "wise" or, as a noun, "a wise person." Despite similarities of spelling, sound, and sense, the two words are not closely related. Sagacious comes from sagire, a Latin verb meaning "to perceive keenly." Etymologists believe that sage comes from a different Latin verb, sapere, which means "to taste," "to have good taste," or "to be wise."

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Hidden Meaning of Sagacious

Sagacious entered the English language around the beginning of the 17th century and, for some decades, referred to perceptiveness of sight, taste, and especially, smell. One of the first authors to use the word, Edward Topsell, wrote in 1607 of bees searching for something with “a most sagacious smelling-sence.” Sagacious has largely lost the sense (no pun intended) of being keen in sensory perception, and now almost exclusively means "of keen judgment, discerning.” The upshot is that English has words for the state of possessing acute vision (such as far-sighted) and a fine sense of touch (such as sensitive), but lacks any adjectives describing an excellent sense of smell.

Choose the Right Synonym for sagacious

shrewd, sagacious, perspicacious, astute mean acute in perception and sound in judgment.

shrewd stresses practical, hardheaded cleverness and judgment.

a shrewd judge of character

sagacious suggests wisdom, penetration, and farsightedness.

sagacious investors got in on the ground floor

perspicacious implies unusual power to see through and understand what is puzzling or hidden.

a perspicacious counselor saw through the child's facade

astute suggests shrewdness, perspicacity, and diplomatic skill.

an astute player of party politics

Examples of sagacious in a Sentence

… the winner is praised for his sagacious grasp of the hopes and anxieties of the public, the loser is excoriated for the many and obvious blunders that derailed his candidacy … Hendrik Hertzberg, New Yorker, 18 Dec. 2000
It has allowed him to pre-empt conservative political attacks, to appear sagacious despite his inexperience … Alan Tonelson, Atlantic, June 1993
With commendably sagacious foresight, I sneaked spoils as well to the elders of key Judean cities whose good will I was cultivating for the future … Joseph Heller, God Knows, 1984
It has been suggested that we go to sleep at night because it is then too dark to do anything else; but owls, who are a venerably sagacious folk, do not sleep in the night-time. James Stephens, The Crock of Gold, 1912
a sagacious critique of the current social climate in our nation
Recent Examples on the Web Foster a balanced approach: While data can provide valuable insights at scale, integrating human judgment and industry expertise ensures a sagacious, well-rounded, and likely more ethical strategic investment approach. Douglas B. Laney, Forbes, 22 Feb. 2024 All that Manuel’s sagacious head coach Victor Valenzuela can do now is fine-tune his fighter’s composure. Ben Wyatt, Rolling Stone, 23 Sep. 2023 The story, which reads as a simple recitation of the facts, portrays the decision to use the bomb as one made with sagacious care. Andy Kifer, Smithsonian Magazine, 18 July 2023 Her character’s backstory is a compelling narrative that the franchise aims to explore over the series: Raised in Harlem with the guidance of a sagacious grandmother, Lally learned of the traditional magic that existed in her family bloodline despite their living in the nonmagical world. Shamira Ibrahim, Essence, 6 Apr. 2022 In the eye-popping sci-fi epic, Winslet plays the sagacious Ronal, an alien queen and healer who leads the oceanic Metkayina clan. Patrick Ryan, USA TODAY, 16 Dec. 2022 There are many other indications of showmanly skills in the sagacious production by Eagle. Jack D. Grant, The Hollywood Reporter, 2 July 2022 Read previous columns here. Leave it to the sagacious Linus Van Pelt to strip away the trappings of the Thanksgiving holiday tradition and find its essence. Ben Zimmer, WSJ, 25 Nov. 2021 Nevertheless, this is the time of year when food writers — ordinarily a wise and sagacious bunch — write about cocktails that are frightening or scary or spooky. Tribune News Service, cleveland, 25 Oct. 2021

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

Word History


Latin sagac-, sagax, from sagire to perceive keenly; akin to Latin sagus prophetic — more at seek

First Known Use

1607, in the meaning defined at sense 2

Time Traveler
The first known use of sagacious was in 1607


Dictionary Entries Near sagacious

Cite this Entry

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

Kids Definition


sa·​ga·​cious sə-ˈgā-shəs How to pronounce sagacious (audio)
: quick and wise in understanding and judgment
sagaciousness noun

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