sur·​rep·​ti·​tious ˌsər-əp-ˈti-shəs How to pronounce surreptitious (audio)
: done, made, or acquired by stealth : clandestine
: acting or doing something clandestinely : stealthy
a surreptitious glance
surreptitiously adverb
Choose the Right Synonym for surreptitious

secret, covert, stealthy, furtive, clandestine, surreptitious, underhanded mean done without attracting observation.

secret implies concealment on any grounds for any motive.

met at a secret location

covert stresses the fact of not being open or declared.

covert intelligence operations

stealthy suggests taking pains to avoid being seen or heard especially in some misdoing.

the stealthy step of a burglar

furtive implies a sly or cautious stealthiness.

lovers exchanging furtive glances

clandestine implies secrecy usually for an evil, illicit, or unauthorized purpose and often emphasizes the fear of being discovered.

a clandestine meeting of conspirators

surreptitious applies to action or behavior done secretly often with skillful avoidance of detection and in violation of custom, law, or authority.

the surreptitious stockpiling of weapons

underhanded stresses fraud or deception.

an underhanded trick

Examples of surreptitious in a Sentence

The letter didn't offer up the jewels, only shadowy suggestions about their disappearance, claiming that [heiress, Carolyn] Skelly, in a surreptitious trading of parcels with "a man in an ankle-length tweed overcoat," had left a bag full of jewelry on the floor at J.F.K. Mark Seal, Vanity Fair, December 2001
In the early evening as we gathered in the lobby beneath mounted elk heads and bear skins, the lights of the chandelier flickered mysteriously. But the teacher and I both spied the surreptitious action of the desk clerk, whose sheepish smile acknowledged that one brief hotel mystery had been solved. Other signs of pranking there included a "ghost" photo (displayed in a lobby album) that the clerk confided to me was staged, and some pennies, placed on the back of a men's room toilet, that from time to time would secretly become rearranged to form messages—like the word "why?" that I encountered. Joe Nickell, Skeptical Inquirer, September/October 2000
The next week offered [FBI agent] Wiser the opportunity he had been waiting for. Ames was leaving the country, going to Ankara for a weeklong international conference on drugs. Wiser went to Bryant for permission to run a … surreptitious search of Ames' garbage. But the chief was dead set against it. Tim Weiner et al., Rolling Stone, 29 June 1995
She had a surreptitious relationship with her employee. a private investigator adept at taking surreptitious pictures of adulterous couples
Recent Examples on the Web Jason Romo, 22, faces four felony charges of surreptitious recording after a witness found a phone hidden inside a box in the women's restroom where Romo worked, according to the police report. Miguel Torres, The Arizona Republic, 7 May 2024 Not to mention the scourge of every bookstore: surreptitious photo-snappers who later shopped online. Elisabeth Egan Chase Castor, New York Times, 1 Apr. 2024 See all Example Sentences for surreptitious 

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

Word History


Middle English, from Latin surrepticius, from surreptus, past participle of surripere to snatch secretly, from sub- + rapere to seize — more at rapid

First Known Use

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

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

Dictionary Entries Near surreptitious

Cite this Entry

“Surreptitious.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 19 May. 2024.

Kids Definition


sur·​rep·​ti·​tious ˌsər-əp-ˈtish-əs How to pronounce surreptitious (audio)
: done, made, or acquired in secret
surreptitiously adverb
surreptitiousness noun

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