\ ˈslī How to pronounce sly (audio) \
slyer also slier\ ˈslī(-​ə)r How to pronounce sly (audio) \; slyest also sliest\ ˈslī-​əst How to pronounce sly (audio) \

Definition of sly

1 chiefly dialectal
a : wise in practical affairs
b : displaying cleverness : ingenious
2a : clever in concealing one's aims or ends : furtive
b : lacking in straightforwardness and candor : dissembling
3 : lightly mischievous : roguish a sly jest
on the sly
: in a manner intended to avoid notice

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Other Words from sly

slyly or less commonly slily adverb
She slyly evaded the question.
slyness noun

Choose the Right Synonym for sly

sly, cunning, crafty, wily, tricky, foxy, artful, slick mean attaining or seeking to attain one's ends by guileful or devious means. sly implies furtiveness, lack of candor, and skill in concealing one's aims and methods. a sly corporate raider cunning suggests the inventive use of sometimes limited intelligence in overreaching or circumventing. the cunning fox avoided the trap crafty implies cleverness and subtlety of method. a crafty lefthander wily implies skill and deception in maneuvering. the wily fugitive escaped the posse tricky is more likely to suggest shiftiness and unreliability than skill in deception and maneuvering. a tricky political operative foxy implies a shrewd and wary craftiness usually involving devious dealing. a foxy publicity man planting stories artful implies indirectness in dealing and often connotes sophistication or cleverness. elicited the information by artful questioning slick emphasizes smoothness and guile. slick operators selling time-sharing

Examples of sly in a Sentence

the movie pairs a sly, dissembling ex-con with an upstanding, straight-arrow cop why, you sly fellow! I had no idea you were planning my birthday party
Recent Examples on the Web Although Cleary never shied away from issues such as unemployment and divorce, she will be remembered for her sly, intelligent wit, which managed to be wicked and kind at the same time. Elisabeth Egan, New York Times, "Beverly Cleary Wrote About Real Life, and Her Readers Loved Her for It," 26 Mar. 2021 Save the sweetened tamagoyaki for last, imagining that Chef Hiro (as regulars call him) is handing it to you across the bar as a finale, nodding at you with his sly smile. Bill Addison, Los Angeles Times, "12 stellar places for springtime takeout and outdoor dining," 26 Mar. 2021 Greta Lee has carved out a place for herself as a sly scene-stealer, while Simu Liu is heading up Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings as the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s first Asian American lead. Alison Willmore, Vulture, "What Was the Asian American Character Actor?," 26 Mar. 2021 That afforded Sprague a sly nod when asked about rankings of system depth. Matt Kawahara, San Francisco Chronicle, "Analysts rank A's farm system among MLB's thinnest. How do they feel about it?," 19 Mar. 2021 Perry held up her golden ticket and flashed a sly smile. Charles Trepany, USA TODAY, "'American Idol' recap: Lionel Richie brought to tears by formerly homeless teen and her mom," 1 Mar. 2021 Fletcher, a sly charmer in the early scenes, becomes the least interesting member of Holiday’s entourage. New York Times, "‘The United States vs. Billie Holiday’ Review: Singing for Her Life," 25 Feb. 2021 Tiller is prone to hyperbole and adverbs, a living, breathing rebuke to an MFA workshop (and Lee's sly nod to his audience). Star Tribune, "Review: 'My Year Abroad,' by Chang-rae Lee," 5 Feb. 2021 Her account of the tannery visit is one of the highlights of the book, giving Rosenbloom prime fodder for her sly, self-deprecating humor. Jennifer Ouellette, Ars Technica, "Dark Archives: Come for the floating goat balls, stay for the fascinating science," 27 Dec. 2020

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'sly.' 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 sly

13th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

History and Etymology for sly

Middle English sleighe, sli, from Old Norse slœgr; akin to Old English slēan to strike — more at slay

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Time Traveler for sly

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The first known use of sly was in the 13th century

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Statistics for sly

Last Updated

10 Apr 2021

Cite this Entry

“Sly.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 16 Apr. 2021.

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More Definitions for sly



English Language Learners Definition of sly

: clever in a dishonest way
: showing that you know a secret


\ ˈslī How to pronounce sly (audio) \
slier or slyer; sliest or slyest

Kids Definition of sly

1 : both clever and tricky
2 : tending to keep secrets and hide intentions
3 : mischievous sense 2 There were teachers all over the place, and any kind of fighting or taunting, above a sly pinch … was out.— Lynne Reid Banks, The Indian in the Cupboard
on the sly
: so as not to be seen or caught : secretly

Other Words from sly

slyly adverb
slyness noun

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More from Merriam-Webster on sly

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for sly

Nglish: Translation of sly for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of sly for Arabic Speakers

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