\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

One of her most recent projects was a home for a couple in Milton; built in the 1900s, its features and original architectural details were beautifully in tact and only needed minor cosmetic tweaking. Danielle Tullo, House Beautiful, "A Luxurious Dog Shower? Yup, This House Has One," 7 Dec. 2018 Mister Rogers’s demeanor balanced openness with reserve, curiosity with tact. New York Times, "Review: Take the Next Trolley to ‘Won’t You Be My Neighbor?’," 6 June 2018 Instead of the traditional bottles, Bubble Tap stays true to its name by pouring up flutes from kegs, which can serve the masses while keeping bubbles perfectly in tact. Lauren Hubbard, Town & Country, "A Prosecco Trailer is the Latest Over-the-Top Party Essential," 5 Sep. 2018 To piggyback the lobster tails: Lengthwise slice through the center upper shell of the lobster to expose the tail meat, but leave the tail fan and under-shell in tact. Christina Pérez, Vogue, "3 Fancy But Easy BBQ Recipes to Grill Before Summer Is Over," 30 Aug. 2018 Such a tact could become easier early next year, once Trump can replace current FHFA director Mel Watt with his own nominee. Gregory Mott, BostonGlobe.com, "Fannie-Freddie rise as White House proposes privatization," 22 June 2018 Along with fellow editors Judith Merrill and Michael Moorcock, Ellison played a crucial role in pushing science fiction and fantasy writers to abandon the blood-and-thunder prose of the pulps and write with greater tact and flare. Jeet Heer, The New Republic, "Harlan Ellison’s Death Raises a #MeToo Quandary," 2 July 2018 Broaching the subject with patients and families requires tact and compassion. Jonel Aleccia, CNN, "'Rapid autopsy' races the clock to unlock mysteries of cancer," 3 May 2018 More Essays Remember the power of tact and discretion. Joann S. Lublin, WSJ, "Workplace Advice I Wish I Had Known," 27 Apr. 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

12 Dec 2018

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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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More from Merriam-Webster on tact

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with tact

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for tact

Spanish Central: Translation of tact

Nglish: Translation of tact for Spanish Speakers

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).


to make faulty or ineffective

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