Definition of detective in English:



  • 1A person, especially a police officer, whose occupation is to investigate and solve crimes:

    ‘detectives are anxious to interview anyone who saw the car’
    • ‘The bravery of one of his victims enabled vice-squad detectives to bring him to court.’
    • ‘The investigating detectives reviewed the color surveillance video at the dealership.’
    • ‘Officers are doing extra patrols in town and detectives have made a new appeal for women not to go out alone.’
    • ‘He said within minutes an ambulance, police vans and detectives had turned up.’
    • ‘Firefighters alerted police and the fire was out before detectives arrived.’
    • ‘A major manhunt was launched and detectives made numerous appeals in a bid to catch the culprit.’
    • ‘Even the two detectives who led the investigation are divided over how much Carr knew.’
    • ‘Police patrols were boosted as detectives warned that the man could strike again.’
    • ‘Eight of the suspects were today being quizzed by detectives at undisclosed police stations.’
    • ‘He had never been in trouble with the police and detectives believe he was the victim of mistaken identity.’
    • ‘He is still at large and detectives are investigating a possible link with an attack just two days earlier.’
    • ‘At the height of the investigation more than 80 detectives were involved in inquiries.’
    • ‘The two men were taken to the police station for questioning by detectives.’
    • ‘A surveillance unit of detectives follow her every move and are ready to pounce when the alarm sounds.’
    • ‘One person detectives are particularly anxious to speak to is a woman who phoned a few days after the assault.’
    • ‘Both were released after being questioned by detectives and remain on police bail.’
    • ‘Strathclyde Police last night confirmed that detectives had investigated the matter.’
    • ‘An initial post-mortem failed to establish a cause of death and detectives started an investigation.’
    • ‘A police spokesman appealed for people with information to contact detectives.’
    • ‘A police spokesman said detectives are trying to establish the cause of death.’
    investigator, private detective, private investigator, operative
    enquiry agent, cid officer, detective constable, dc, detective sergeant, ds, detective inspector, di, detective chief inspector, dci, detective superintendent, detective chief superintendent
    private eye, pi, sleuth, sleuth-hound, jack, snoop, snooper
    peeper, shamus, gumshoe
    dick, private dick, tec, bogey, hawkshaw, sherlock
    View synonyms
    1. 1.1[as modifier] Denoting a rank of police officer with investigative duties:
      ‘a detective inspector’
      • ‘He said that from his past work as a detective sergeant for the Kennet district he knew the Marlborough area well.’
      • ‘Yes, Sir William, my name is KK, I am a retired detective inspector.’
      • ‘Michael Jericho is a detective inspector in Fifties London.’
      • ‘The detective inspector looked at the other musicians as if he was thinking about having them searched.’
      • ‘He had been in the police force for 15 years, rising to the rank of detective constable but was sacked following his conviction.’
      • ‘The detective sergeant told the court police also wished to question four other people who are in custody about this document.’
      • ‘A Western Isles man has been appointed detective inspector for Orkney, Shetland, Caithness and Sutherland.’
      • ‘We like it here because you don't have to be a detective sergeant or a policeman.’
      • ‘The men were suspended from duty and a lengthy investigation carried out by a detective superintendent.’
      • ‘Criticism that police may have been slow in responding was rejected by detective inspector Watson.’
      • ‘In a statement released after the verdict, the Chapmans accused the detective constable of betraying them.’
      • ‘‘One of the prints we have found is yours,’ a Strathclyde Police detective inspector told her.’
      • ‘He was promoted to detective inspector last September, and latterly has been based at Keighley.’
      • ‘A year later he was promoted to detective inspector, based in Leyland, and after two years he joined Lancashire's drug squad.’
      • ‘Even the detective inspector investigating Vera's case is sympathetic.’
      • ‘Chelmsford's new detective inspector has vowed to purge the town of criminals through a hard-line proactive attitude to crime.’
      • ‘The Q car team will include an advanced driver, detective sergeant and a police constable.’
      • ‘Tim is at present a detective inspector in Hastings and he and his family are active members of a church in Eastbourne.’
      • ‘He also telephoned a detective inspector and told him he was conducting a search.’
      • ‘And a team of four police officers - headed by a detective sergeant - has been set up, dedicated to vehicle crime.’
    2. 1.2[as modifier] Concerning crime and its investigation:
      ‘detective work’
      • ‘It's a classic noir detective tale but as well as a crime to be solved there's a philosophical mystery in the making.’
      • ‘They focus more upon good old-fashioned detective work to solve the crime of the week.’
      • ‘It means that our police forces are hopelessly inept when it comes to applying detective work to modern communications.’
      • ‘I think there was a lot of good police work, good detective work, the cooperation of all the agencies.’
      • ‘Jackson was sitting on the couch, watching some type of mystery detective crime fighting show.’
      • ‘Since the mid-nineteenth century crime and detective fiction has been a prominent part of the output of all the dominant mass media.’
      • ‘They want professional police to do the detective work.’
      • ‘No, the only way to stop crime is good, old-fashioned detective work which seems to be lacking in our Police Service.’
      • ‘This reflects the excellent detective work from the CID officers at Darwen.’
      • ‘However, I believe the police officers ought to do good detective work by observing.’
      • ‘As well as detective work, crime prevention is also a key priority.’


Mid 19th century: from detect. The noun was originally short for detective policeman, from an adjectival use of the word in the sense ‘serving to detect’.