\ ˈslī How to pronounce sly (audio) \
slyer also slier\ ˈslī(-​ə)r How to pronounce sly (audio) \; slyest also sliest\ ˈslī-​əst How to pronounce sly (audio) \

Definition of sly

1 chiefly dialectal
a : wise in practical affairs
b : displaying cleverness : ingenious
2a : clever in concealing one's aims or ends : furtive
b : lacking in straightforwardness and candor : dissembling
3 : lightly mischievous : roguish a sly jest
on the sly
: in a manner intended to avoid notice

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Other Words from sly

slyly or less commonly slily adverb
She slyly evaded the question.
slyness noun

Choose the Right Synonym for sly

sly, cunning, crafty, wily, tricky, foxy, artful, slick mean attaining or seeking to attain one's ends by guileful or devious means. sly implies furtiveness, lack of candor, and skill in concealing one's aims and methods. a sly corporate raider cunning suggests the inventive use of sometimes limited intelligence in overreaching or circumventing. the cunning fox avoided the trap crafty implies cleverness and subtlety of method. a crafty lefthander wily implies skill and deception in maneuvering. the wily fugitive escaped the posse tricky is more likely to suggest shiftiness and unreliability than skill in deception and maneuvering. a tricky political operative foxy implies a shrewd and wary craftiness usually involving devious dealing. a foxy publicity man planting stories artful implies indirectness in dealing and often connotes sophistication or cleverness. elicited the information by artful questioning slick emphasizes smoothness and guile. slick operators selling time-sharing

Examples of sly in a Sentence

the movie pairs a sly, dissembling ex-con with an upstanding, straight-arrow cop why, you sly fellow! I had no idea you were planning my birthday party
Recent Examples on the Web The veteran comic, actress, singer and raconteur brings her sly, sardonic wit and musical stylings back to the Wallis. Los Angeles Times, 7 Oct. 2021 The decadent drink is a sly reference to The Office, on which Novak (in addition to producing, writing, and directing) played Ryan Howard, the on-again, off-again love interest of Mindy Kaling's Kelly Kapoor. Ew Staff,, 16 Sep. 2021 Empathy, for another, may be a sly means of seduction., 30 Sep. 2021 His 1996 profile of future Crossfire co-host James Carville is the gold standard: a sly and devastating hit piece. Alex Shephard, The New Republic, 16 Sep. 2021 Director Michael Showalter's insightful and smart film charts the rise and fall of Jim Bakker (Andrew Garfield) and wife Tammy Faye's popular religious broadcasting network while sticking a sly finger in the eye of modern fundamentalism. Brian Truitt, USA TODAY, 16 Sep. 2021 But even in his more lighthearted roles, Williams brought a sly intensity that instantly stood out — even in a sea of comedic actors. Michael Schneider, Variety, 7 Sep. 2021 Even when heavily armored and surrounded by a cast of thousands, Leung holds the screen above all others, conveying tactical genius, emotional ardor and a sly rapport with his main co-star (Takeshi Kaneshiro). Los Angeles Times, 3 Sep. 2021 Ivanoff, a sly jokester, is an original resident of Karluk Manor. Michelle Theriault Boots, Anchorage Daily News, 2 Sep. 2021

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'sly.' 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 sly

13th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

History and Etymology for sly

Middle English sleighe, sli, from Old Norse slœgr; akin to Old English slēan to strike — more at slay

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The first known use of sly was in the 13th century

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Last Updated

19 Oct 2021

Cite this Entry

“Sly.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 27 Oct. 2021.

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More Definitions for sly



English Language Learners Definition of sly

: clever in a dishonest way
: showing that you know a secret


\ ˈslī How to pronounce sly (audio) \
slier or slyer; sliest or slyest

Kids Definition of sly

1 : both clever and tricky
2 : tending to keep secrets and hide intentions
3 : mischievous sense 2 There were teachers all over the place, and any kind of fighting or taunting, above a sly pinch … was out.— Lynne Reid Banks, The Indian in the Cupboard
on the sly
: so as not to be seen or caught : secretly

Other Words from sly

slyly adverb
slyness noun

More from Merriam-Webster on sly

Nglish: Translation of sly for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of sly for Arabic Speakers


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