tact

noun \ ˈtakt \
|Updated on: 13 Jun 2018

Definition of tact

1 : a keen sense of what to do or say in order to maintain good relations with others or avoid offense
2 : sensitive mental or aesthetic perception
  • converted the novel into a play with remarkable skill and tact

Examples of tact in a Sentence

  1. Far from joining polite society like the debutants of the past, the kids gleefully rip through social graces, alienating friends and sacrificing tact all in the name of creating a VIP room filled with people too young to drive themselves home. —Ana Marie CoxTime24 Apr. 2006
  2. The attorney general's lack of restraint and want of tact, on such an occasion … were clearly symptomatic of a considerable irritation, even rage. —Christopher HitchensHarper'sMarch 2001
  3. In society tact is the great art that makes for civility, for civilization … —Jacques BarzunFrom Dawn to Decadance2000
  4. He did not clear his throat with badinage, as timidity teaches us to do, nor did he waste his breath with tact. —Earl ShorrisHarper'sSeptember 1997
  5. A man of gentle mien, he is inclined to use psychology and tact, rather than showboat heroics, when pursuing his murder inquiries. —Marilyn StasioNew York Times Book Review1 Jan. 1989
  6. The peace talks required great tact on the part of both leaders.

  7. I was surprised by his lack of tact.

Recent Examples of tact from the Web

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

Do you change tack or tact?

Although some believe the word tact is short for tactics in phrases like "change tact" or "try a different tact," the correct word in such contexts is tack.

Tack in "change tack" and "try a different tack" means "a course or method of action especially when sharply divergent from that previously followed.”

Tack developed this meaning from its nautical applications. In sailing, tack can refer to the direction that a ship or boat is sailing in as it moves at an angle to the direction of the wind; or to a change from one direction to another direction; or to the distance traveled while sailing in a particular direction.

Tack developed the "course or method of action" meaning near the end of the 17th century; within 100 or so years, the phrase "change tack" was being used with the figurative meaning it has today.

While there is also a long history of people using tact where tack belongs, the use is widely shunned by usage guides, which means you might want to avoid it.

Did You Know?

This word came to English directly from French (a Latin-based language), where it can also mean simply "sense of touch". Dealing with difficult situations involving other people can require the kind of extreme sensitivity that our fingertips possess. As Lincoln once said, "Tact is the ability to describe others as they see themselves", which doesn't usually come naturally. Someone tactful can soothe the feelings of the most difficult people; a tactless person will generally make a bad situation worse.

Origin and Etymology of tact

French, sense of touch, from Latin tactus, from tangere to touch — more at 2tangent

Synonym Discussion of tact

tact, address, poise, savoir faire mean skill and grace in dealing with others. tact implies delicate and considerate perception of what is appropriate.
    • questions showing a lack of tact
address stresses dexterity and grace in dealing with new and trying situations and may imply success in attaining one's ends.
    • brought it off with remarkable address
poise may imply both tact and address but stresses self-possession and ease in meeting difficult situations.
    • answered the accusations with unruffled poise
savoir faire is likely to stress worldly experience and a sure awareness of what is proper or expedient.
    • the savoir faire of a seasoned traveler

TACT Defined for English Language Learners

tact

Definition of tact for English Language Learners

  • : the ability to do or say things without offending or upsetting other people


TACT Defined for Kids

tact

noun \ ˈtakt \

Definition of tact for Students

: the ability to do or say things without offending other people
  • She settled the argument with tact.


Seen and Heard

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