adjective \ ˈske-chē \
|Updated on: 14 Jul 2018

Definition of sketchy

sketchier; sketchiest
1 : of the nature of a sketch : roughly outlined
2 : wanting in completeness, clearness, or substance : slight, superficial
  • the details are sketchy
3 : questionable, iffy
  • got into a sketchy situation
  • a sketchy character


play \ˈske-chə-lē\ adverb


play \ˈske-chē-nəs\ noun

Examples of sketchy in a Sentence

  1. The details about the accident are still a little sketchy.

  2. I have only a sketchy idea of how it works.

Recent Examples of sketchy from the Web

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'sketchy.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

The Varied Meanings of sketchy

A sketch is a rough drawing usually done as an initial draft in contrast to a finished work. The word sketch suggests imperfection and a lack of refinement. It comes from the Dutch word schets and ultimately from the Italian verb schizzare, an imitative verb meaning "to splash."

Unsurprisingly, the adjective sketchy originally described something relating to or resembling a sketch, as in "a sketchy portrait." But because sketches are by nature rough and ill-defined, sketchy soon came to mean "wanting in completeness, clearness, or substance," as in "a sketchy understanding" or "sketchy details."

What lacks completeness, clearness, or substance is also subject to doubt or challenge, and sketchy went on to develop uses applying to what is questionable or iffy, either for physically obvious qualities or for something less tangible. In sports we see this sense of sketchy applied to a track or surface that is poorly maintained, as in "a sketchy track," and in broader use it is applied to streets and neighborhoods that can also be described as seedy, as in "a sketchy part of town."

The adjective has more recently extended in use to describe someone who creates an impression of unsavoriness, or something that comes from an untrustworthy source or is itself untrustworthy, as in "a sketchy dude" or "a scheme that sounds sketchy."

First Known Use of sketchy


in the meaning defined at sense 1

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SKETCHY Defined for English Language Learners


Definition of sketchy for English Language Learners

  • : not complete or clear

  • : done quickly without many details

  • : likely to be bad or dangerous

SKETCHY Defined for Kids


adjective \ ˈske-chē \

Definition of sketchy for Students

sketchier; sketchiest
1 : roughly outlined
2 : lacking completeness or clearness
  • a sketchy description

Seen and Heard

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