: a keen sense of what to do or say in order to maintain good relations with others or avoid offense
: sensitive mental or aesthetic perception
converted the novel into a play with remarkable skill and tact

Did you know?

Do you change tack or tact?

Although some believe the word tact is short for tactics in phrases like "change tact" or "try a different tact," the correct word in such contexts is tack.

Tack in "change tack" and "try a different tack" means "a course or method of action especially when sharply divergent from that previously followed.”

Tack developed this meaning from its nautical applications. In sailing, tack can refer to the direction that a ship or boat is sailing in as it moves at an angle to the direction of the wind; or to a change from one direction to another direction; or to the distance traveled while sailing in a particular direction.

Tack developed the "course or method of action" meaning near the end of the 17th century; within 100 or so years, the phrase "change tack" was being used with the figurative meaning it has today.

While there is also a long history of people using tact where tack belongs, the use is widely shunned by usage guides, which means you might want to avoid it.

Did you know?

This word came to English directly from French (a Latin-based language), where it can also mean simply "sense of touch". Dealing with difficult situations involving other people can require the kind of extreme sensitivity that our fingertips possess. As Lincoln once said, "Tact is the ability to describe others as they see themselves", which doesn't usually come naturally. Someone tactful can soothe the feelings of the most difficult people; a tactless person will generally make a bad situation worse.

Choose the Right Synonym for tact

tact, address, poise, savoir faire mean skill and grace in dealing with others.

tact implies delicate and considerate perception of what is appropriate.

questions showing a lack of tact

address stresses dexterity and grace in dealing with new and trying situations and may imply success in attaining one's ends.

brought it off with remarkable address

poise may imply both tact and address but stresses self-possession and ease in meeting difficult situations.

answered the accusations with unruffled poise

savoir faire is likely to stress worldly experience and a sure awareness of what is proper or expedient.

the savoir faire of a seasoned traveler

Example Sentences

Far from joining polite society like the debutants of the past, the kids gleefully rip through social graces, alienating friends and sacrificing tact all in the name of creating a VIP room filled with people too young to drive themselves home. Ana Marie Cox, Time, 24 Apr. 2006
The attorney general's lack of restraint and want of tact, on such an occasion … were clearly symptomatic of a considerable irritation, even rage. Christopher Hitchens, Harper's, March 2001
In society tact is the great art that makes for civility, for civilization … Jacques Barzun, From Dawn to Decadance, 2000
He did not clear his throat with badinage, as timidity teaches us to do, nor did he waste his breath with tact. Earl Shorris, Harper's, September 1997
A man of gentle mien, he is inclined to use psychology and tact, rather than showboat heroics, when pursuing his murder inquiries. Marilyn Stasio, New York Times Book Review, 1 Jan. 1989
The peace talks required great tact on the part of both leaders. I was surprised by his lack of tact. See More
Recent Examples on the Web Gilmore has recorded 29 interceptions in 148 career games. – Tyler Dragon Eagles' cornerback tandem in tact with James Bradberry's return At least one notable would-be free agent won't be leaving the Philadelphia Eagles. Michael Middlehurst-schwartz, USA TODAY, 14 Mar. 2023 While 37 dugout canoes have been found in Wisconsin, this one is the oldest and the most in-tact. Monica Cull, Discover Magazine, 30 Nov. 2021 So the love note just really helped make sure his anger and his tact was justified. Brian Davids, The Hollywood Reporter, 3 Feb. 2023 Capturing our modern terrors with both humor and tact, The Survivalists is a surprisingly fun read for such a dire topic. Lauren Puckett-pope, ELLE, 11 Jan. 2023 Under the previous chief, Charlie Beck, the department tried a new tact that showed leniency for an officer’s first offense, but was followed by a lengthy suspension, or even termination, after a second incident. Libor Janystaff Writer, Los Angeles Times, 21 Dec. 2022 Employees need to know how to use empathy and tact when interacting with others to inspire cooperation and get the best results. Neil Khaund, Forbes, 10 Nov. 2022 As development trends threaten local ecology and communities in the pursuit of foreign profits and progress, cultural experts such as Po Araní may have the wisdom and tact to revert this destructive fate. Palabra, al, 16 Sep. 2022 Many social situations require one to ignore the obvious; this is called tact. Jacobina Martin, Washington Post, 1 Feb. 2023 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'tact.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

Word History


French, sense of touch, from Latin tactus, from tangere to touch — more at tangent entry 2

First Known Use

1797, in the meaning defined at sense 2

Time Traveler
The first known use of tact was in 1797

Dictionary Entries Near tact

Cite this Entry

“Tact.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/tact. Accessed 27 Mar. 2023.

Kids Definition


: the ability to deal with others without offending them
tactlessly adverb
tactlessness noun

More from Merriam-Webster on tact

Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
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