adjective ten·ta·tive \ ˈten-tə-tiv \
|Updated on: 11 Jul 2018

Definition of tentative

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





Examples of tentative in a Sentence

  1. In the winter, retirees from the Midwest fill the trailer parks. They are known with tentative affection as snowbirds. —William LangewiescheAtlanticJune 1992
  2. 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and resentment of the people to whom he spoke, but his words were somehow tentative and contingent, as if they could be withdrawn on a month's notice.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. LaphamHarper'sJuly 1992
  3. 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 HitchensTimes Literary Supplement30 Nov. 1990
  4. 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. DiamondDiscoverMay 1989
  5. the baby's first tentative steps

  6. We have tentative plans for the weekend.

Recent Examples of tentative from the Web

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.

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.

Origin and Etymology of tentative

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




Definition of tentative

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

First Known Use of tentative


in the meaning defined above

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TENTATIVE Defined for Kids


adjective ten·ta·tive \ ˈten-tə-tiv \

Definition of tentative for Students

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


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

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