Definition of sly in English:



  • 1Having or showing a cunning and deceitful nature.

    ‘she had a sly personality’
    • ‘His character is a blending of many different traits: he's smart, sly, manipulative, dangerous, and much more.’
    • ‘It's not impossible that such a conspiracy is taking place, because there are many sly people who manipulate the dumb citizens for their own benefit.’
    • ‘How could he have forgotten how sly and deceitful Viya was?’
    • ‘Lord knows the girl had made enough sly remarks about them getting together.’
    • ‘Diplomacy as a game values the sly, the cunning, the underhanded, the crafty.’
    • ‘When Chinese describe a person as ‘a monkey’, it means the person is extremely sly or cunning.’
    • ‘The Romans, who will resolutely overwhelm an adversary with the might of arms, they say Phoenicians are deceitful and sly.’
    • ‘The dialogue is often artful, with sly suggestions that the seeds of various Shakespearean plots and themes were sown in the muck of their messy affair.’
    • ‘Those raised in urban Western understanding of the psychology of the animal kingdom tend to view the fox as a cunning, sly, deceitful animal.’
    • ‘Ray was oblivious to my cunning and sly plan, and I kept it that way.’
    • ‘Her letters therefore reveal a web of motives and sly manipulation that her uncomfortable position encouraged.’
    • ‘These bungalows had their own world, their own parties and picnics, their special sly and subtle ‘in’ jokes.’
    • ‘He was cunning, sly and a good strategist, beating her at games of wits when others can't.’
    • ‘But it is dispensed with such style, coupled to such a mixture of absurd silliness and sly knowingness about human nature, that you can't help falling for its charms.’
    • ‘I'm starting to go faster at each race but I'm still not sly enough when it comes to hitting my adversaries!’
    • ‘She was a rather cunning and sly teenager by nature, accented by her narrow brown eyes and usual smirk.’
    • ‘It is sly, clever after a fashion, and undeniably effective.’
    • ‘If the character feels angry, I go crazy; and it's the same with sadness, but with the Marquise, she is sly and calculating and that's my hardest challenge.’
    • ‘She'd obviously met a bad bunch, for McCabe is immoral, deceitful and sly.’
    cunning, crafty, clever, wily, artful, guileful, tricky, conniving, scheming, devious, designing, deceitful, duplicitous, dishonest, disingenuous, underhand, sneaky, untrustworthy
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    1. 1.1(of a remark, glance, or facial expression) showing in an insinuating way that one has some secret knowledge that may be harmful or embarrassing.
      ‘he gave a sly grin’
      • ‘Galloway asked them, with a sly grin, to look out for his car.’
      • ‘On the cover shot, Fleck sports a sly grin as if he knew what a wonderful journey he was about to embark on.’
      • ‘Stan nodded conspiratorially, a sly grin creeping over his face.’
      • ‘Given his reluctance to admit the obvious, it's no surprise he still manages to aim a selection of sly digs at the Australian umpires and authorities.’
      • ‘Juliano would turn around and there would be Petty, looking at him with a sly grin that said, ‘I got you again.’’
      • ‘The sly grin on his face and the glint in Len's eyes said it all.’
      • ‘‘We may let in a few goals,’ he said with a sly grin.’
      • ‘He used to peel down to his jockstrap, muscles glistening, sly grin flashing, while firing cryptic answers at the media, which he loathed.’
      • ‘By delivering her message with a sly grin, West reminded us that sex - and, by extension, life - is supposed to be fun.’
      • ‘At the Chelsea Flower Show, Ann-Marie Powell finds garden designers looking to a geometric future and enjoys japesters taking a sly dig at the past’
      • ‘Was voting for these awards a sly dig at the American establishment?’
      • ‘His early morning frown slowly turned into a sly, cheeky grin, as if to say, ‘Look what I've found.’’
      • ‘A sly, mischievous grin then appeared on the thief's face.’
      • ‘His hair will be carefully dishevelled (by me), he will be unshaven, and he will wear a sly grin.’
      • ‘The entire nation tuned in to watch his presentation of the 1994-1995 budget interspersed with Urdu couplets and sly digs at the opposition.’
      • ‘Oozing grace, charm, wit and style, she gives a masterclass of the English mannered style - a raised eyebrow here or a sly grin there sufficient to keep us engaged.’
      • ‘He couldn't resist what appeared a sly dig at the directors of Dundee, suggesting that by refusing to accept his offer to invest, they were willing to risk their club's financial well-being.’
      • ‘He seems touched but then can't resist having a sly dig at himself by pointing out that the really tender thing to have done would have been not to include it on the album.’
      • ‘‘Something for you to eat,’ replies the breakfast girl with a sly grin.’
      • ‘But that short eyebrow, sly grin and crooked jaw are now what make me, well, me.’
    2. 1.2(of an action) surreptitious.
      ‘a sly sip of water’
      • ‘Nelson took a sip of the wine and a sly smile appeared.’


Middle English (also in the sense dexterous): from Old Norse slœgr cunning originally able to strike from the verb slá; compare with sleight.