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and resentment of the people to whom he spoke, but his words were somehow tentative and contingent, as if they could be withdrawn on a month's notice.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 Salinas is bringing that annual event to the house from 4 p.m.-7 p.m. July 28 — ahead of its tentative opening in late fall. Freep.com, 17 July 2021 The approval of a six-year contract at the plant in southwestern Virginia came after three previous votes on tentative agreements were rejected by the members. Eric D. Lawrence, Detroit Free Press, 16 July 2021 After Donald Trump imposed tighter economic and political restrictions on Cuba, Biden promised a return to tentative engagement with Cuba and its government. Ian Bremmer, Time, 16 July 2021 Authorities confirmed the son is now being held on new tentative charges: mutilating and hiding a corpse and first-degree intentional homicide. Jennifer Dunkerley, ABC News, 15 July 2021 Last Thursday, Chandler was arrested on a tentative felony charge of providing false information in a missing person investigation, the Dane County Sheriff's Office said in a release. Kc Baker, PEOPLE.com, 13 July 2021 Rangers manager Chris Woodward announced his tentative post-break rotation Friday, with Jordan Lyles scheduled to start the second-half opener against Toronto in Buffalo. Evan Grant, Dallas News, 9 July 2021 There was nothing tentative about his game whatsoever. Greg Moore, The Arizona Republic, 8 July 2021 After a nearly weeklong layoff, Young seemed tentative and all out of sorts. chicagotribune.com, 4 July 2021

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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Last Updated

19 Jul 2021

Cite this Entry

“Tentative.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/tentative. Accessed 30 Jul. 2021.

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More Definitions for tentative



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

More from Merriam-Webster on tentative

Nglish: Translation of tentative for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of tentative for Arabic Speakers


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