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

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

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What does the word tactful mean?

According to Merriam-Webster Unabridged English Dictionary and Vocabulary, the word tactful is an adjective that describes someone who has the ability to say or do things without causing offense to other people. Someone who works in human resources must be tactful when letting someone go. There are many different customer and client-facing jobs that require a person to be tactful. This person might make people feel better about bad haircuts or gently point out toothpaste on their shirt. Someone who is tactful is polite and friendly, and goes out of their way to make sure they aren’t offending other people. Try using this word of the day or other new words in a sentence today!

Many different languages also possess words that mean tactful. You may notice that many of these words look and sound similar to the word tactful. These are called cognates, which are when two words that have the same meaning across languages also look and sound similar or the same. Cognates are often formed when two words have the same root or language of origin. This list of translations for the word tactful is provided by Word Sense

  • Spanish: discreto‎, diplomático‎, de mucho tacto‎
  • Russian: такти́чный‎, дипломати́чный‎
  • Finnish: tahdikas‎, hienotunteinen‎
  • Persian: سنجیده‎, با ظرافت‎
  • German: taktvoll‎
  • French: plein de tact‎, diplomatique‎
  • Maori: matawhāiti‎, whakahangahanga‎
  • Hungarian: tapintatos‎
  • Czech: taktní‎
  • Catalan: discret‎
  • Dutch: tactvol‎

What are synonyms and antonyms for the word tactful?

There are many different words that a person can use in place of the word tactful. These are called synonyms. Synonyms are words and phrases that have the same meaning as a given word or phrase. Synonyms are useful for a variety of reasons. They are a quick and simple way to work on expanding one’s vocabulary, and can also be useful when one is trying not to repeat the same word in a written work or spoken word. This list of synonyms for the word tactful is provided by Thesaurus

  • thorough
  • apprehensive
  • heedful
  • deft
  • diplomatic
  • circumspect
  • precise
  • poised
  • suave
  • sympathetic
  • aware
  • considerate
  • delicate
  • regardful
  • careful
  • politic
  • tactical
  • civil
  • cautious
  • perceptive
  • solid
  • deliberate
  • attentive
  • polite
  • observant
  • playing safe
  • conscientious
  • meticulous
  • going to great lengths
  • solicitous
  • fussy
  • rigorous
  • kid-glove treatment
  • protective
  • discreet
  • gentle
  • judicious
  • conservative
  • wise
  • wary
  • choosy
  • vigilant
  • sober
  • thoughtful
  • accurate
  • punctilious
  • finicky
  • courteous
  • exacting
  • fastidious
  • assiduous
  • urbane
  • shy
  • chary
  • sensitive
  • cool
  • prudent
  • concrete
  • guarded
  • scrupulous
  • self disciplined
  • leery
  • adroit
  • alert
  • subtle
  • provident
  • mindful
  • particular
  • polished
  • understanding
  • concerned
  • prim
  • skillful
  • religious
  • skilled

There are also a number of different words that mean the opposite of the word tactful. These are called antonyms. Antonyms are another simple way to expand your English language vocabulary. This list of antonyms for the word tactful is also provided by Thesaurus

  • regardless
  • wasteful
  • blundering
  • careless
  • absent-minded
  • casual
  • brash
  • sharp
  • uncivil
  • unpolished
  • injudicious
  • unsympathetic
  • inconsiderate
  • rough
  • unguarded
  • hasty
  • uncircumspect
  • heedless
  • impolite
  • remiss
  • misunderstanding
  • unthinking
  • unobservant
  • sloppy
  • impolitic
  • imprudent
  • gruff
  • incautious
  • unkind
  • rash
  • bungling
  • perfunctory
  • napping
  • cursory
  • stupid
  • pococurante
  • nonchalant
  • unheeding
  • unmindful
  • lackadaisical
  • unconsiderate
  • indelicate
  • loose
  • inept
  • indolent
  • unreflective
  • crude
  • unperceptive
  • unsubtle
  • abstracted
  • inaccurate
  • slipshod
  • undiplomatic
  • boorish
  • harsh
  • mindless
  • thoughtless
  • indiscreet
  • awkward
  • gauche
  • oblivious
  • irresponsible
  • disregardful
  • rude
  • indifferent
  • tactless
  • unconcerned
  • untactful
  • reckless
  • clumsy
  • lax
  • discourteous
  • vulgar
  • negligent
  • abstract
  • maladroit
  • offhand
  • unfeeling
  • insensitive
  • inadvertent
  • improvident
  • forgetful

How can the word tactful be used in a sentence?

The word tactful can be used to describe many different people. This word is usually not used to describe things or animals, and is almost exclusively used to describe humans. This tactful person will have a discerning sense of diplomacy and discretion.  In this first example, Katya is a recruiter for a large company. She tells her friend Trixie about her day at work. 

Trixie: How was your day?

Katya: Not good. I had to call and tell this girl that she didn’t get the job. I really wanted her to get it.

Trixie: I’m sorry. I’m sure you were tactful and made her know that she was an excellent candidate.

Here, Trixie assured Katya that she was tactful and didn’t hurt the feelings of the person who did not get the job. She is sure Katya crafted a tactful reply. This is an important quality for a recruiter to have. In this next example, Katya breaks up with her boyfriend.

Katya: I don’t want you to think that I’m doing this because I don’t love you as a person, I do. I just don’t think we’re working anymore.

Boyfriend: No matter how tactful you’re being, this still hurts. 

What is the origin of the word tactful?

According to Etymonline, the word tactful has been used since the year 1844. Similarly to its related words tactfully and tactfulness, the word tactful was formed from the noun tact. The word tact has been used since the 1650s to refer to a sense of touch or feeling. This comes from the Latin tactus, meaning touch. This is also where we get the word tactile. The Latin tactus comes from the root tanger, meaning to touch. This is from the Proto-Indo-European root tag meaning to touch. This word was first used to mean some sense of discernment in action or conduct in 1804, and was developed from the French cognate tact. In Latin, the figurative sense was influence or effect. 

Overall, the word tactful means someone who is able to do and say difficult things without offending others. This person has a keen sense for delicate situations, and tries to avoid embarrassment through diplomatic conduct or a sensitive manner. Having much tact, empathy, and emotional intelligence is an important quality to possess in many different jobs and areas of service, as well as in social settings. Someone who is tactful is polite and considerate, and can present bad news without offense.