strat·​a·​gem ˈstra-tə-jəm How to pronounce stratagem (audio)
: an artifice or trick in war for deceiving and outwitting the enemy
: a cleverly contrived trick or scheme for gaining an end
: skill in ruses or trickery

Did you know?

A stratagem is any clever scheme—sometimes one that's part of an overall strategy (i.e., a carefully worked out plan of action). The word stratagem entered English in the 15th century and was originally used in reference to some artifice, such as a military plan or maneuver, which was designed to deceive or outwit the enemy. This military sense can be traced back to the word's Greek ancestor stratēgēma, which is itself based on stratēgein, meaning "to act as a general." Stratēgein, in turn, comes from stratēgos (meaning "general"), which comes from stratos ("camp" or "army") and agein ("to lead"). Stratēgos is an ancestor of strategy as well.

Choose the Right Synonym for stratagem

trick, ruse, stratagem, maneuver, artifice, wile, feint mean an indirect means to gain an end.

trick may imply deception, roguishness, illusion, and either an evil or harmless end.

the tricks of the trade

ruse stresses an attempt to mislead by a false impression.

the ruses of smugglers

stratagem implies a ruse used to entrap, outwit, circumvent, or surprise an opponent or enemy.

the stratagem-filled game

maneuver suggests adroit and skillful avoidance of difficulty.

last-minute maneuvers to avert bankruptcy

artifice implies ingenious contrivance or invention.

the clever artifices of the stage

wile suggests an attempt to entrap or deceive with false allurements.

used all of his wiles to ingratiate himself

feint implies a diversion or distraction of attention away from one's real intent.

a feint toward the enemy's left flank

Example Sentences

tried various stratagems to get the cat into the carrier, but the feisty feline was wise to them all
Recent Examples on the Web Though only a senior editor, Matthew Robbins had managed, through aggressive boardroom stratagems, to be appointed the new publisher. Hernan Diaz, Harper’s Magazine , 10 Feb. 2023 This seemed like a political stratagem (Yang was positioning himself as a candidate who could unite a divided America), but the two stayed in touch. Kelefa Sanneh, The New Yorker, 19 Sep. 2022 And the familiar stratagem: Make mischief with the formula, while still making movies that feel formulaic. John Anderson, WSJ, 9 Feb. 2023 This is a common stratagem, said Dove, the psychology researcher. Cezary Podkul, ProPublica, 13 Sep. 2022 Some companies are reformulating their products using cheaper ingredients to reduce their manufacturing costs, a stratagem some have dubbed skimpflation, according to consumer advocate Edgar Dworsky, the founder of Consumer World. Aimee Picchi, CBS News, 4 Oct. 2022 This disagreement doomed any stratagem that the large states could have launched. Jack Rakove, WSJ, 16 Sep. 2022 These actions are possible because of his political stratagem. Ariel Cohen, Forbes, 17 May 2022 Since returning to power in 2010, Prime Minister Viktor Orban has deliberately increased Hungary’s reliance on Russian imports as a political stratagem. Ariel Cohen, Forbes, 17 May 2022 See More

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

Word History


Italian stratagemma, from Latin strategema, from Greek stratēgēma, from stratēgein to be a general, maneuver, from stratēgos general, from stratos camp, army (akin to Latin stratus, past participle, spread out) + agein to lead — more at stratum, agent

First Known Use

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

Time Traveler
The first known use of stratagem was in the 15th century


Dictionary Entries Near stratagem

Cite this Entry

“Stratagem.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 1 Jun. 2023.

Kids Definition


strat·​a·​gem ˈstrat-ə-jəm How to pronounce stratagem (audio)
: a trick in war for deceiving and outwitting the enemy
: a clever trick or scheme

More from Merriam-Webster on stratagem

Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
Love words? Need even more definitions?

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