\ˈtakt \

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

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Synonyms & Antonyms for tact


diplomacy, tactfulness


clumsiness, insensitivity, tactlessness

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Choose the Right Synonym for 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

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.

Examples of tact in a Sentence

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 Cox, Time, 24 Apr. 2006 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 Hitchens, Harper's, March 2001 In society tact is the great art that makes for civility, for civilization … — Jacques Barzun, From Dawn to Decadance, 2000 He did not clear his throat with badinage, as timidity teaches us to do, nor did he waste his breath with tact. — Earl Shorris, Harper's, September 1997 A man of gentle mien, he is inclined to use psychology and tact, rather than showboat heroics, when pursuing his murder inquiries. — Marilyn Stasio, New York Times Book Review, 1 Jan. 1989 The peace talks required great tact on the part of both leaders. I was surprised by his lack of tact.
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Recent Examples on the Web

In fact, with the Warriors still in tact for the foreseeable future, LeBron may fall short during his L.A. stay, giving grist to the pundits who knock him for only winning three titles, as opposed to Michael Jordan’s six. Sean Gregory, Time, "LeBron James' Move to L.A. Will Lift the NBA," 2 July 2018 The President could've taken a different tact when this started last fall. Shawn Windsor, Detroit Free Press, "Donald Trump using NFL anthem issue to lather up resentment and hate," 6 June 2018 In order to satisfy some concerns, the Senate took a different tact than the House did by limiting the personal accountability to the member only. NBC News, "Senate to release its sexual harassment legislation," 22 May 2018 He's taken that tact more than preferred this season, a mediocre 30-20 year so far with a 13-12 SEC record. Ron Higgins, NOLA.com, "LSU wraps crucial comeback victory by putting a Beau on it," 12 May 2018 Dunn and Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau might have seemed like a smart working pair, but Fred Hoiberg's offense—and softer tact—have opened up Dunn's game in a meaningful way. Rob Mahoney, SI.com, "Kris Dunn Is Changing Minds in Chicago," 16 Jan. 2018 Trying a new tact, Hayhoe started to bring her evangelical beliefs into the conversation. Tik Root, Newsweek, "An Evangelical Movement Takes On Climate Change," 9 Mar. 2016 So my question is really around what Megan was saying about doing your tour of duty, bringing tact to solve problems in justice and poverty. Recode Staff, Recode, "Full video and transcript: Diversity in tech panel at Code 2018," 9 June 2018 Silver sent a memo to teams in mid-June indicating the change would not come any earlier than the 2021 draft, and that timeline appears to still be in tact. Sam Amick, USA TODAY, "Move to eliminate NBA one-and-done rule gaining momentum, commissioner Adam Silver says," 10 July 2018

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.

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First Known Use of tact

1797, in the meaning defined at sense 2

History and Etymology for tact

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

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Dictionary Entries near tact

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Statistics for tact

Last Updated

5 Sep 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for tact

The first known use of tact was in 1797

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More Definitions for tact



English Language Learners Definition of tact

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


\ˈtakt \

Kids Definition of tact

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

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Comments on tact

What made you want to look up tact? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


one that holds something together

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