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.

Examples of tentative in a Sentence

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and resentment of the people to whom he spoke, but his words were somehow tentative and contingent, as if they could be withdrawn on a month's notice.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.
Recent Examples on the Web
Adjective
Additionally, the tentative agreement calls for studios to commit to AI training and to protections against potential lawsuits over an IATSE worker’s use of AI. Brian Welk, IndieWire, 12 July 2024 It’s been nearly two weeks since IATSE reached a tentative agreement with the studios on a new film and TV contract, and the union is now ready to reveal the full contract to its members. Katie Campione, Deadline, 10 July 2024 Separately, South Korean automaker Hyundai Motor and its labor union reached a tentative wage agreement on Monday, averting a strike planned for Wednesday and Thursday, local news agency Yonhap reported. Sheila Chiang, CNBC, 10 July 2024 Amid an outcry over working conditions in 2021, 50.4 percent of voting members of IATSE’s West Coast Locals voted down their union’s tentative agreement. Katie Kilkenny, The Hollywood Reporter, 9 July 2024 See all Example Sentences for tentative 

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'tentative.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

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 21 Jul. 2024.

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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