The Meaning of Sly: What It Is and How To Use It

Do you know the definition of sly? This article will provide you with all of the information you need on the word sly, including its definition, etymology, usage, example sentences, and more!

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What does the word sly mean?

According to the Merriam-Webster Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language as well as dictionaries like American Heritage and Collins English Dictionary, the word sly is an adjective that means displaying cleverness, or someone who is wise in practical affairs. This person is lacking in straightforwardness or candor, and is clever in concealing their aims. This term is slightly mischievous in connotation and implies craftiness, furtiveness, or a secretive manner. You may hear this word in the phrases on the sly and sly as a fox. The pronunciation of sly is ˈslaɪ. Many things can be sly, including a sly trick, sly look, sly manner, a sly dodge, sly knowingness, a sly dig, sly manipulation, a sly teenager, or a sly fox. One can also add the suffixes er and est to make slyer/slier and slyest/sliest.

Many different languages also use words that mean sly. You may notice that some of these words look and sound similar to the word sly. These are called cognates. Cognates are words and phrases that look and sound similar between languages, and also have a similar meaning. These are often formed when words have the same root or language of origin. This list of translations of sly is provided by Word Sense.

  •  Arabic: خَبِيث‎, مَاكِر‎
  •  Serbo-Croatian: prepreden‎
  •  Slovak: ľstivý‎, prešibaný‎
  •  Czech: prohnaný‎ (masc.)
  •  Spanish: astuto‎
  •  Hungarian: ravasz‎
  •  Russian: хи́трый‎, кова́рный‎ (wily), лука́вый‎
  •  Norman: seurnouais‎
  •  French: sournois‎, malin‎, rusé‎, matois‎
  •  Turkish: kurnaz‎
  •  Norwegian: slu‎, sleip‎
  •  Neapolitan: ‘mbruglione‎
  •  Mandarin: 狡猾‎ (jiǎohuá), 鬼黠‎ (guǐxiá), 狡黠‎ (jiǎoxiá)
  •  Armenian: խորամանկ‎
  •  Basque: azeri‎
  •  Japanese: 狡い‎ (ずるい, zurui), 狡猾‎ (こうかつ, kōkatsu)
  •  Maori: mūrere‎
  •  German: schlau‎, gerissen‎, listig‎, verschmitzt‎
  •  Irish: bradach‎
  •  Finnish: ovela‎
  •  Esperanto: ruza‎
  •  Dutch: sluw‎
  •  Egyptian Arabic: خبيث‎, مكار‎
  •  Swedish: slug‎
  •  Italian: furbo‎, sornione‎ (masc.)
  •  Portuguese: esperto‎, astuto‎

What is the origin of the word sly?

According to Etymonline, the word sly has been used since the year 1200 in Middle English as sley. This comes from the Old Norse sloegr or Old Norse slœgr meaning cunning or crafty. This comes from the Proto-Germanic slogis which is also the source of the Low German slu and German schlau. This likely comes from the rook slack. This is related to the German words verschlagen, schlagfertig and schlagen. One can also add the suffixes ly and ness to the word sly to create slyly (adv.) and slyness (n.). This word is Proto-Indo-European in origin.

How can the word sly be used in a sentence?

The word sly can be used in many different ways in the English language. Below are examples of sly.

The sly teenager was able to escape notice when she snuck out of the house last December. Her best friend was the lookout.

The squad of sly hackers cracked the Google code written by inferior beings. The intellectuals had the dexterous secrecy and good sense to cover their tracks.

The wily old attorney accepted sly extra payments from shady sources and used them for deep political machinations.

The ad executive team full of cunning men created a foxy scheme with sly humour for their next media ad campaign for a jockstrap product.

The Princeton University student had a sly plan to hack into the database of students from the entire nation. He flew through the firewalls with such style.

Ann-Marie Powell’s date showed a mixture of absurd silliness and charms with his sly grin flashing her way. She wasn’t sure if he was doing it for his own benefit or if he really liked her, the tender thing.

The adversary slung a selection of sly digs at the man, who met these jabs with muscles and his usual smirk.

His narrow brown eyes were full of spy conspiracy and reluctance to believe the cryptic answers from the government. Facebook and twitter had convinced him that the political machine was tricksy, and only dumb citizens trusted their web of motives.

The teacher was put in an uncomfortable position when her student with a crooked jaw made a sly move at her after class. She hoped nothing she had said gave him the wrong impression. She pondered telling the administration.

What are antonyms and synonyms for the word sly?

There are many different words that mean the same thing as the word sly (adj.), which are called synonyms. Synonyms are words and phrases that have the same meaning as another word or phrase. Synonyms are very useful to know if you want to expand your vocabulary or if you want to avoid repeating yourself. This list of synonyms for the word sly is provided by Thesaurus.

  •  mean
  •  tricky
  •  stealthy
  •  underhand
  •  covert
  •  cagey
  •  traitorous
  •  unscrupulous
  •  wily
  •  arch
  •  ingenious
  •  shrewd
  •  shifty
  •  astute
  •  bluffing
  •  delusive
  •  crooked
  •  sharp
  •  artful
  •  conniving
  •  secret
  •  double-dealing
  •  smart
  •  designing
  •  treacherous
  •  furtive
  •  insidious
  •  slick
  •  dishonest
  •  devious
  •  mischievous
  •  captious
  •  dissembling
  •  elusive
  •  plotting
  •  illusory
  •  cunning
  •  roguish
  •  smooth
  •  foxy
  •  sneaking
  •  dishonorable
  •  canny
  •  calculating
  •  intriguing
  •  scheming
  •  crafty
  •  clever
  •  deceptive
  •  impish
  •  deceitful
  •  guileful
  •  subtle

There are also many different words that have the opposite meaning as the word sly. These opposite words are called antonyms. Learning antonyms is another quick and easy way to expand your vocabulary. This list of antonyms is also provided by Thesaurus

  •  natural
  •  uncommitted
  •  fair
  •  innocent
  •  mellow
  •  objective
  •  objective
  •  openhearted
  •  impartial
  •  undissembled
  •  frank
  •  up-front
  •  free
  •  receptive
  •  unconcealed
  •  on the level
  •  plain
  •  open
  •  guileless
  •  unreserved
  •  lay it on the line
  •  unbiased
  •  unprejudiced
  •  undisguised
  •  ingenuous
  •  talking turkey
  •  open-and-shut
  •  transparent
  •  honest
  •  disinterested
  •  sincere
  •  straightforward
  •  artless
  •  candid

Overall, the word sly means


  1. sly: meaning, origin, translation | Word Sense 
  2. OPEN Synonyms: 400 Synonyms & Antonyms for OPEN  | Thesaurus 
  3. SLY Synonyms: 61 Synonyms & Antonyms for SLY | Thesaurus 
  4. sly | Origin and meaning of sly | Online Etymology Dictionary  
  5. Sly | Definition of Sly | Merriam-Webster