\ ˈtakt How to pronounce tact (audio) \

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

Keep scrolling for more

Synonyms & Antonyms for tact



Visit the Thesaurus for More 

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.
See More
Recent Examples on the Web The starting group of George Moore, TJ Bass, Alex Forsyth, Ryan Walk, Steven Jones and Malaesala Aumavae-Laulu should remain in tact. oregonlive, "With all starters returning, Oregon Ducks offensive line enters spring with 4-deep rotation," 30 Mar. 2021 This week, Hilton transformed her look for a new high-fashion advertisement (but kept her brows in-tact this time!). Kaitlyn Frey, PEOPLE.com, "Paris Hilton Thought She Looked Like an 'Alien' When She Bleached Her Eyebrows: 'Terrible'," 16 Mar. 2021 The source credits motherhood with keeping the pair's bond in-tact long-distance. Kayleigh Roberts, Marie Claire, "Princess Eugenie Is Reportedly the Only Royal Meghan Markle Is Still Close to After Royal Exit," 3 Mar. 2021 There's something really comforting knowing that Randall and Beth’s family is still very much in tact in the future. Jessica Radloff, Glamour, "This Is Us Just Set Up a Brand New Mystery," 24 Feb. 2021 Entering a family system requires tact, humor, a generous spirit, and the ability to survive an occasional argument. Amy Dickinson, BostonGlobe.com, "Conflict aversion leads to tough breakup," 8 Feb. 2021 Entering a family system requires tact, humor, a generous spirit, and the ability to survive an occasional argument. Amy Dickinson, Detroit Free Press, "Conflict aversion leads to tough breakup," 8 Feb. 2021 Alok kicks up the BPM and adds a few slight layers to the already heady tropically-laden deep house production, while leaving the standout hook -- which the producer says initially drew him to the song -- in tact. Katie Bain, Billboard, "First Spin: The Week's Best New Dance Tracks From Alok, Mikey Lion, TroyBoi & More," 29 Jan. 2021 This person may have redeeming qualities, but tact and a sense of humor are not two of them. Abigail Van Buren, oregonlive, "Dear Abby: New father refuses to help care for baby," 24 Oct. 2020

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.

See More

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

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about tact

Statistics for tact

Last Updated

10 Apr 2021

Cite this Entry

“Tact.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/tact. Accessed 21 Apr. 2021.

Style: MLA
MLACheck Mark Icon ChicagoCheck Mark Icon APACheck Mark Icon Merriam-WebsterCheck Mark Icon

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for tact



English Language Learners Definition of tact

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


\ ˈtakt How to pronounce tact (audio) \

Kids Definition of tact

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

More from Merriam-Webster on tact

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for 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).


Test Your Vocabulary

Name that Thing: Flower Edition

How Strong Is Your Vocabulary?

Test your vocabulary with our 10-question quiz!


Anagram puzzles meet word search.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!