tentative

play
adjective ten·ta·tive \ˈten-tə-tiv\

Definition of tentative

  1. 1 :  not fully worked out or developed <tentative plans>

  2. 2 :  hesitant, uncertain <a tentative smile>

tentative

noun

tentatively

adverb

tentativeness

noun

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 Langewiesche, Atlantic, June 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and resentment of the people to whom he spoke, but his words were somehow tentative and contingent, as if they could be withdrawn on a month's notice.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. Lapham, Harper's, July 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 Hitchens, Times Literary Supplement, 30 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. Diamond, Discover, May 1989

  5. the baby's first tentative steps

  6. We have tentative plans for the weekend.

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


First Known Use: 1626


TENTATIVE Defined for English Language Learners

tentative

play
adjective ten·ta·tive \ˈten-tə-tiv\

Definition of tentative for English Language Learners

  • : not done with confidence : uncertain and hesitant

  • : not definite : still able to be changed


TENTATIVE Defined for Kids

tentative

play
adjective ten·ta·tive \ˈten-tə-tiv\

Definition of tentative for Students

  1. 1 :  not final <tentative plans>

  2. 2 :  showing caution or hesitation

tentatively

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


Seen and Heard

What made you want to look up tentative? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).

WORD OF THE DAY

a harsh rebuke

Get Word of the Day daily email!

WORD GAMES

Take a 3-minute break and test your skills!

  • hot-dog--hot-dog--hot-dog--hot-dog-cat
  • Which of the following words is not a synonym for ‘a young person’?
Name That Thing

Test your visual vocabulary with our 10-question challenge!

TAKE THE QUIZ
SCRABBLE® Sprint

Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.

TAKE THE QUIZ