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

Example Sentences

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 Realizing the potential danger, Pelosi managed to make a quick surreptitious phone call to 911 and left the line open, authorities said. Richard Winton Los Angeles Times (tns), al, 31 Oct. 2022 One slide in particular described a tool called Rumker, explaining that Chainalysis could use its surreptitious Bitcoin nodes to identify the IP addresses of anonymous services, including dark-web markets. Andy Greenberg, WIRED, 29 Nov. 2022 Roland, a financially precarious Londoner in his late 30s, reels from the sudden, surreptitious departure of his wife Alissa. Erin Douglass, The Christian Science Monitor, 22 Nov. 2022 Republicans can and must reverse this surreptitious government takeover. Steve Forbes, Forbes, 11 Nov. 2022 Thursday, the New York Post printed surreptitious photos showing Cardi B, Offset and Quavo being spotted for the first time after Takeoff’s passing, entering an SUV headed to a family. A.d. Amorosi, Variety, 11 Nov. 2022 Among the episodes that emerge is the Grand Havana Room meeting, along with the persistent, surreptitious effort to bring the Mariupol plan to life. Jim Rutenberg, New York Times, 2 Nov. 2022 In surreptitious cell phone recordings, Courtney Clenney can be heard berating her boyfriend Christian Obumseli, hurling insults at him, calling him a racist slur, and seemingly slapping him. Andrea Marks, Rolling Stone, 3 Nov. 2022 Police said they were called to the scene before 3 a.m. Friday, when 82-year-old Paul Pelosi managed to contact authorities with a surreptitious 911 call. Megan Cassidy, San Francisco Chronicle, 31 Oct. 2022 See More

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

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 1 Feb. 2023.

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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