ten·​ta·​tive | \ ˈten-tə-tiv How to pronounce tentative (audio) \

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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Synonyms & Antonyms for tentative

Synonyms: Adjective

Antonyms: Adjective

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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and resentment of the people to whom he spoke, but his words were somehow tentative and contingent, as if they could be withdrawn on a month's notice.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.
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Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective When In Doubt, More Throttle The beach is no place to be tentative. Ezra Dyer, Car and Driver, "How to Drive on the Beach," 3 July 2020 Katie Stoynoff, Akron-AAUP’s chief negotiator, said the negotiations are on-going, but that both sides have reached a tentative agreement, pending the union’s review of data provided by the university regarding the budget and expenses. Robin Goist, cleveland, "University of Akron professors rally in support of faculty union during contract negotiations," 2 July 2020 The company has reached a tentative agreement on the early retirement program with the union representing Delta pilots. Yueqi Yang, Bloomberg.com, "Delta Warns Thousands of Pilots About Possible Furloughs," 27 June 2020 Delta and the union that represents its pilots reached a tentative agreement on the terms of a voluntary retirement package for the airline’s pilots in an effort to reduce the number who are forced to leave. Alison Sider, WSJ, "Delta Warns Pilots of Possible Furloughs," 27 June 2020 The tentative plan is for Johnny Cueto, who was announced as the Opening Day starter shortly before the shutdown, and Jeff Samardzija to anchor the starting staff. John Shea, SFChronicle.com, "5 questions for Giants camp: Top prospects on fast track? Who’s the DH?," 27 June 2020 The images from space technology company Maxar are dated on the same day that China and India reached a tentative agreement since the violent confrontation. Fox News, "Satellite imagery shows China building up military presence in Galwan Valley days after deadly clash with India," 25 June 2020 Nearby Loudoun County Public Schools a tentative plan that would permit its 84,000 students to learn in-person two days a week, while spending three days learning virtually at home. Hannah Natanson, Washington Post, "Fairfax families have a choice for next school year: two days on campus or full-time remote learning," 24 June 2020 Meanwhile, back in the Corpus Christi bankruptcy court, Nike and JCPenney worked out a tentative deal last week. oregonlive, "Highly awaited earnings report will show how Nike weathered pandemic-recession double whammy," 24 June 2020

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


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


derivative of tentative entry 1

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Time Traveler for tentative

Time Traveler

The first known use of tentative was in 1825

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Statistics for tentative

Last Updated

6 Jul 2020

Cite this Entry

“Tentative.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/tentative. Accessed 7 Jul. 2020.

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More Definitions for tentative


How to pronounce tentative (audio)

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 How to pronounce tentative (audio) \

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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