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and resentment of the people to whom he spoke, but his words were somehow tentative and contingent, as if they could be withdrawn on a month's notice.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

Two weeks after the Lasell deal collapsed, UMass trustees announced a tentative deal, which later became final, to buy the Mount Ida campus in Newton and allow students from the closed school to transfer to UMass Dartmouth. Laura Krantz, BostonGlobe.com, "Mount Ida president blames closure on Lasell College maneuvers," 9 July 2018 But multiple sources suggested to Fox News that news of the tentative deal was an effort to short-circuit immigration discussions and allow moderates to forge ahead with using the discharge petition next week. Gregg Re, Fox News, "Tentative GOP deal on visas for 'Dreamers' throws talks on immigration bill into chaos," 7 June 2018 But none of her fellow commissioners had an appetite for setting a higher tentative tax rate. Jerry Fallstrom, OrlandoSentinel.com, "Lake says not enough money to fund sheriff's $9.8 million budget increase request," 13 July 2018 Though never tentative, the performance was calculated. David Patrick Stearns, Philly.com, "Lang Lang's recovery: Will he ever play in Philly again?," 12 July 2018 Wendy Sinnette provided a tentative update on district enrollment figures for the 2018-19 school year, saying that as of this week, the total student population is at 4,098 and more are likely to be enrolled before the school year begins Aug. 16. Sara Cardine, latimes.com, "La Cañada Unified officials honor robotics team’s enterprise, prep for new school year," 12 July 2018 Citizens Energy Group announced Wednesday that the closure at Ohio and Pennsylvania streets Downtown may last through July 15, pushed back two days from the last tentative deadline. Holly V. Hays, Indianapolis Star, "Downtown sinkhole repair deadline pushed back to July 15," 11 July 2018 City commissioners will approve a tentative tax rate Tuesday. Brittany Wallman, Sun-Sentinel.com, "Fort Lauderdale plans to use water-sewer money to balance budget — again," 9 July 2018 The agency had no immediate comment Monday on the tentative settlement. Jacques Billeaud, azcentral, "Motel 6 to settle claim workers gave guest info to ICE," 9 July 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

19 Sep 2018

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Time Traveler for tentative

The first known use of tentative was in 1825

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More Definitions for tentative


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).


the setting in which something occurs

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