tentative

1 of 2

adjective

ten·​ta·​tive ˈten-tə-tiv How to pronounce tentative (audio)
1
: not fully worked out or developed
tentative plans
2
: hesitant, uncertain
a tentative smile

tentative

2 of 2

noun

plural tentatives
: 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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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.

Example Sentences

Adjective 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and resentment of the people to whom he spoke, but his words were somehow tentative and contingent, as if they could be withdrawn on a month's notice.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. See More
Recent Examples on the Web
Adjective
Bitcoin edged higher Monday, charting a tentative recovery after a brutal week that raised questions about the future of the cryptocurrency industry. Chelsey Dulaney, WSJ, 14 Nov. 2022 Hauman suggests that tentative tasters should visit a specialty store and browse, since many options come in attractive packaging. Emily Heil, Washington Post, 12 Nov. 2022 The Englishman, who missed out on a place in Gareth Southgate’s 26-man England squad this week, is too tentative and slow in possession, opting to come back rather than go forward and attack. Liam Canning, Forbes, 11 Nov. 2022 Opening day: Sunrise Park's tentative start is scheduled for Dec. 2. Michael Salerno, The Arizona Republic, 11 Nov. 2022 Even with last month’s tentative easing of inflation, the Federal Reserve is widely expected to keep raising interest rates to try to stem persistently high price increases. Hartford Courant, 10 Nov. 2022 The world – or at least the slice of it that continues to embrace the political system called democracy – has breathed a tentative sigh of relief. David A. Andelman, CNN, 9 Nov. 2022 In the contested Western states that may decide control of the Senate (Arizona, Nevada), the results were too tentative to say much at all. Benjamin Wallace-wells, The New Yorker, 9 Nov. 2022 The Ducks play Oregon State on Dec. 11 but Graves meant at the end of December or early January for Basham’s tentative return. oregonlive, 9 Nov. 2022 See More

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.

Word History

Etymology

Adjective

borrowed from Medieval Latin tentātīvus "as a trial, experimental, provisional," from Latin temptātus, tentātus, past participle of temptāre, tentāre "to feel, test, examine" + īvus -ive — more at tempt

Noun

derivative of tentative entry 1

First Known Use

Adjective

1825, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Noun

1893, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of tentative was in 1825

Dictionary Entries Near tentative

Cite this Entry

“Tentative.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/tentative. Accessed 26 Nov. 2022.

Kids Definition

tentative

adjective

ten·​ta·​tive ˈtent-ət-iv How to pronounce tentative (audio)
1
: not fully worked out or developed
tentative plans
2
: hesitant, uncertain
a tentative smile
tentatively adverb

More from Merriam-Webster on tentative

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