ten·​ta·​tive | \ ˈten-tə-tiv \

Definition of tentative

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 : not fully worked out or developed tentative plans
2 : hesitant, uncertain a tentative smile


plural tentatives

Definition of tentative (Entry 2 of 2)

: something that is uncertain or subject to change : something that is tentative In war, certainties have a way of becoming tentatives.The Buffalo (New York) News Seventy-nine shows have contracts to use the center between now and 2010, with 129 booked with either contracts pending or as tentatives.— Keith Reed

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Other Words from tentative


tentatively adverb
tentativeness noun

Synonyms & Antonyms for tentative

Synonyms: Adjective

conditional, contingent (on or upon), dependent, subject (to)

Antonyms: Adjective

independent, unconditional

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A "Tentative" Explanation

Tentative is from the Latin tentare (“to attempt”), and its original meaning was “attempted, provisional, experimental.” It is easy to see how this emphasis on trial and error led to the word’s current sense “not fully worked out or developed” (as in "a tentative date," "tentative plans," "a tentative job offer"). The “hesitant, uncertain” sense that is also common nowadays (as in “a tentative knock on the door”) extends the idea of an unripe attempt to the uncertain emotional state of the person making the attempt.

Examples of tentative in a Sentence


In the winter, retirees from the Midwest fill the trailer parks. They are known with tentative affection as snowbirds. — William Langewiesche, Atlantic, June 1992 Clearly the President was chastened by the sorrow and resentment of the people to whom he spoke, but his words were somehow tentative and contingent, as if they could be withdrawn on a month's notice. — Lewis H. Lapham, Harper's, July 1992 There was a crying need, in the tentative early days of populist toryism, for a voice that could bring the gospel to the lumpen. — Christopher Hitchens, Times Literary Supplement, 30 Nov. 1990 Thus, we have a tentative picture of anatomically modern people arising in Africa over 100,000 years ago, but initially making the same tools as Neanderthals and having no advantage over them. By perhaps 60,000 years ago, some magic twist of behavior had been added to the modern anatomy. — Jared M. Diamond, Discover, May 1989 the baby's first tentative steps We have tentative plans for the weekend.
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Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective

Radhaus comes via the folks behind Hayes Valley’s German hangouts Biergarten and Suppenküche and has a tentative opening date set for late spring or early summer. Justin Phillips, San Francisco Chronicle, "Highly-anticipated beer hall headed to Fort Mason, thanks to Suppenkuche and Biergarten team," 2 May 2018 Wright said the project, which began in late February with progress made each Saturday, should be completed by a tentative date of May 28. Katherine Wright, OrlandoSentinel.com, "FSU football players cherish helping Mr. Freddie, volunteering in community," 21 Apr. 2018 Complicating matters, a tentative July trial date was set last week for three other Chicago police officers charged with obstruction of justice in connection with McDonald’s shooting. Megan Crepeau, chicagotribune.com, "Officer Van Dyke's lawyer objects to publicly releasing any further court filings as trial nears," 18 Apr. 2018 After reviewing his case, including his criminal history of 12 drunken driving arrests, the board sent him back to prison with a tentative parole date two years out. Rebecca Boone, idahostatesman, "In prison for DUI, he shared a cell with a murderer — and now, he’s dead | Idaho Statesman," 15 Mar. 2018 After reviewing his case, including his criminal history of 12 drunken-driving arrests, the board sent him back to prison with a tentative parole date two years out. Rebecca Boone, The Seattle Times, "Idaho inmate death shines light on cellmate pairings at U.S. prisons," 15 Mar. 2018 Before the hearing ended, the judge suggested a tentative date for trial in early May. Mr. Bederow requested May 1. Alan Feuer, New York Times, "A Murder, a Conviction and a Never-Ending Case," 21 Feb. 2018 The Wolverines then have a tentative April 14 date set for an Ann Arbor spring game and still plan to close the spring session with a team trip to France. Nick Baumgardner, Detroit Free Press, "Michigan football still plans on trip to France for practice in April," 7 Feb. 2018 SpaceX has set a tentative launch date of February 6 for the Falcon Heavy launch from Kennedy Space Center, at a launch pad near where Tuesday's launch attempt will take place. Eric Berger, Ars Technica, "SpaceX has made its last launch before Falcon Heavy attempt [Updated]," 31 Jan. 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'tentative.' 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 tentative


1825, in the meaning defined at sense 1


1893, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for tentative


Medieval Latin tentativus, from Latin tentatus, past participle of tentare, temptare to feel, try

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Statistics for tentative

Last Updated

21 Feb 2019

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for tentative

The first known use of tentative was in 1825

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More Definitions for tentative



English Language Learners Definition of tentative

: not done with confidence : uncertain and hesitant
: not definite : still able to be changed


ten·​ta·​tive | \ ˈten-tə-tiv \

Kids Definition of tentative

1 : not final tentative plans
2 : showing caution or hesitation

Other Words from tentative

tentatively adverb Harriet walked toward her tentatively, as one would toward a mad dog … — Louise Fitzhugh, Harriet the Spy

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Comments on tentative

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


very full or close together

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