Definition of spy in English:

spy

noun

  • 1A person who secretly collects and reports information on the activities, movements, and plans of an enemy or competitor.

    • ‘During the Civil War, both sides employed spies, to little effect.’
    • ‘The authors warn that US networks are very vulnerable to attack by hackers or spies looking for intelligence.’
    • ‘If he was truly an enemy spy, what would become of him?’
    • ‘Wherever they go they think the Feds, or the police, or spies are watching them.’
    • ‘In breaks from active service, he farmed in Hampshire, took employment with the Portuguese navy, and was briefly employed as a spy among the naval bases in southern France.’
    • ‘They were expelled from Cornwall in 1917 because the police believed then to be spies for the enemy.’
    • ‘The key problem, say officials, was reliance on wiretaps and surveillance rather than human Intelligence - i.e. spies.’
    • ‘Sure, there are risks, the worst being the potential compromise of spies if information leaked, but that's always a risk.’
    • ‘They served as clerks and couriers, telephone and telegraph operators, code and cipher analysts, and spies behind enemy lines in Europe.’
    • ‘Elizabeth I's ministers had to employ spies and even use torture to gain information about threats to her life.’
    • ‘The guy turned out to be a spy, and the information Novak passed on was therefore suspect.’
    • ‘You know with skills like that you might be better employed as a spy, a CIA operative or something, instead of being a therapist.’
    • ‘Overcoming fear of torture and death, he became a British spy and infiltrated their camp.’
    • ‘In 1938, Landau was imprisoned for a year as a suspected German spy.’
    • ‘It employs a worldwide network of spies and informants.’
    • ‘So, we've learned now that this information was shared with spies.’
    • ‘My spies have sent back information that confirms that she is alive and well.’
    • ‘The locals feared he was a German spy and the government forced him to leave.’
    • ‘The CIA, usually portrayed as ruthless and omniscient, turns out to have had no spies and barely any informers in the enemy camp.’
    • ‘The enemy had spies that would spread false propaganda.’
    secret agent, undercover agent, enemy agent, foreign agent, secret service agent, intelligence agent, double agent, counterspy, industrial spy, fifth columnist, mole, plant, scout
    control, handler
    spook
    snooper
    intelligencer
    beagle
    View synonyms
    1. 1.1A person who keeps watch on others secretly.
      [as modifier] ‘a spy camera’
      • ‘A man was caught on spy camera dumping more than half a tonne of dog mess.’
      • ‘A motoring organisation has raised concerns about plans for a national network of spy cameras that will be able to track the movements of motorists around the clock.’
      • ‘Government-funded spy cameras in Jaywick were never connected to the CCTV monitoring centre and no longer work.’
      • ‘The fast food chain have confirmed that they have plans to install spy cameras in their toilets to deter litigious customers from claiming they fell on wet tiles.’
      • ‘The school's two rabbits Fern and Hill are new additions this year, and children have been watching a spy camera set up in a birdhouse they built.’
      • ‘Hidden spy cameras, designed to trap as many motorists as possible, will be scrapped in favour of highly visible lenses.’
      • ‘Did the spy cameras capture the action in the showers?’
      • ‘Britain's most sophisticated spy camera network was launched in Manchester today.’
      • ‘Weren't you paying attention to the spy cameras in my room?’
      • ‘Improved street lighting and spy cameras have been installed in Southend as part of a £50,000 scheme to boost safety in the community.’
      • ‘A trader today demanded spy cameras in Leigh after burglars escaped with £10,000 of mobile phone equipment from his shop.’
      • ‘But even when the spy cameras eventually arrive, will they solve all of Sligo's late night public order problem?’
      • ‘BIG Brother-style spy cameras are to zoom in on litterbugs who plague city streets.’
      • ‘Meanwhile, police are planning to use spy cameras in the countryside to enforce the new law.’
      • ‘A hi-tech Peeping Tom who set up a secret spy camera to film a younger female friend in the nude was caught after she spotted the lens, a court heard.’
      • ‘Police used spy camera footage to identify and convict 11 yobs.’
      • ‘Mobile spy cameras are to catch out fly-tippers in the Spen Valley.’
      • ‘This, he reasoned, was perfect justification for placing 5,000 spy cameras on roads the length and breadth of Britain.’
      • ‘Fraud investigators could soon be taking to the streets armed with spy cameras and walkie-talkies in a clampdown on benefit crime.’
      • ‘An investigation has been launched in Hoyland after a spy camera was found hidden behind a wall in a council chamber.’

verb

[NO OBJECT]
  • 1 Work for a government or other organization by secretly collecting information about enemies or competitors.

    ‘he agreed to spy for the West’
    • ‘The Army has charged him with five offenses: sedition, aiding the enemy, spying, espionage and failure to obey a general order.’
    • ‘Government agencies have not yet been able to prevent spying and the exchange of information by agents.’
    • ‘If they are spying for a commercial competitor, the situation is different.’
    • ‘The pirate Jean Laffite and his men were paid to scout, spy, and sometimes fight for Gen. Andrew Jackson during the War of 1812.’
    • ‘He joins a multinational corporation in order to spy for them and is persuaded to become a double agent for a rival corporation, even though he doesn't know what they do, or what they want.’
    • ‘The Einstein dossier serves as a useful reminder of the scope of FBI spying.’
    • ‘If he did agree to work for the rebels and became a double agent, spying for the CAS, he'd get two paychecks.’
    • ‘Last year's debate on intelligence reform should have centered on espionage, which we call human intelligence, or HUMINT, or spying.’
    • ‘People knew that the CIA was partly about spying, and they had vague, romantic notions about spies borrowed from Ian Fleming and Graham Greene novels.’
    • ‘Both men were charged with spying, destabilising society, and publishing false information.’
    • ‘Although these tools make it easier to spy, undercover agents still have to turn up at the right place at the right time in order to collect the information.’
    • ‘The sinister, murky world of espionage is laid bare in this revised and updated edition of Philip Knightley's powerful book about spies and spying in the 20th century.’
    • ‘The charges against them have been dropped from spying to ‘illegal information collection’, although the new charge still carries a possible jail sentence.’
    • ‘On this basis, they have said, Anthony Blunt was considered to have committed treason by spying for the Soviet Union during the Cold War.’
    • ‘It's one thing to know in theory that governments always spy on each other, quite another to see set out in a memo the detail of how the spying will be done.’
    • ‘Burgess, Maclean, Philby and Blunt spied out of political conviction.’
    • ‘Most had spied for money, but some spied out of ideological motives, and others because of grudges against their superiors.’
    • ‘But was she really a sleeper agent recruited by her brother to spy for the Russian NKVD?’
    • ‘A short time ago, we spoke with a defense analyst who told us about other countries that are doing some spying of their own.’
    • ‘He spied for the Russians and is now serving a life sentence.’
    espionage, undercover work, cloak-and-dagger activities, surveillance, reconnaissance, intelligence, eavesdropping, cyberespionage, infiltration, counter-espionage, counter-intelligence
    ninjutsu
    bugging, wiretapping, recon
    be a spy, be engaged in spying, gather intelligence, work for the secret service
    View synonyms
    1. 1.1Observe (someone) furtively.
      ‘the couple were spied on by reporters’
      • ‘He often spied on her, watching from the shadows, observing her every gesture.’
      • ‘As one review put it, reading this book is like spying on your friends when they didn't know you were there.’
      • ‘It had gotten to the point where I was starting to suspect my own friends of spying on me.’
      • ‘Jeez, you'd think I was some kind of little old lady hanging around by my window all day, spying on the neighbours.’
      • ‘Thanks to a new range of high-tech monitoring tools, it is now easier than ever to spy electronically on your children.’
      • ‘He liked the knowledge that he could spy on his neighbors if he ever needed to.’
      • ‘For once we didn't pretend we weren't spying on each other.’
      • ‘To pass the time, he spies on his neighbours, watching the real-life soap opera in the building across from his.’
      • ‘Unions at City Hall have accused Council bosses of breaking the law by spying on employees using CCTV cameras and other means.’
      • ‘This team is trying to make the quality of all our lives better and are certainly not going around spying on anyone.’
      • ‘He was spying on Selina, watching her every move.’
      • ‘Mr Barrett believes the cameras are being misused, to spy on motorists parking, rather than watching out for crime.’
      • ‘A growing number of employers are installing cameras and software to spy on you.’
      • ‘The chips transmit signals and civil liberties groups fear the technology could eventually be used to spy on consumers.’
      • ‘One of his favorite tricks is to call the people he's spying on and describe what he is observing through his telescopic lens.’
      • ‘These people are regularly keeping watch on them and spying on their movements.’
      • ‘He got his family to spy on her if he was out of the house.’
      • ‘A reporter has been arrested outside the home of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie for spying on the star couple with binoculars..’
      • ‘She's there to spy on her cheating husband.’
      • ‘Most people would agree that spying on one's neighbors is detestable.’
      • ‘Social network analysis could be used for something more useful than spying on employees.’
    2. 1.2[with object]Discern or make out, especially by careful observation.
      ‘he could spy a figure in the distance’
      • ‘Walking up the aisle, he spies a familiar little figure sitting in the final row of seats near the entrance.’
      • ‘She spied a lone figure staggering aimlessly across a recently ploughed field just north of the farmhouse.’
      • ‘Travellers, spying them for the first time, were lost for words.’
      • ‘As he turns, he spies a dark figure entering the terrace from one of the other rooms, possibly the nursery, carrying a small bundle.’
      • ‘I was then undecided as to how to get back to Liverpool Street, but, spying a number 23 bus, and dredging out of my memory that they went there, I jumped on.’
      • ‘I remember as a child that when we crossed the border into Italy, the customs officials, spying the license plate, would humbly ask my father whether he was a member of the Swiss government.’
      • ‘A year or two later, I happened to be visiting the cathedral in Derry, and spied a figure sitting quietly in prayer.’
      • ‘This is worrying news but Banks, spying the panic in my eyes, moves swiftly to allay fears.’
      • ‘Most people, spying a three to four inch spider hanging off a web between a bush and some zinnias, would have backed off.’
      • ‘‘I'll just go see if I can spy your brother out there, he might want a ride home’.’
      • ‘I strongly recommend you pick up the book next time you spy a copy on someone's bookshelf.’
      • ‘In trying to find a comfortable place to sit, she spied a gun and picked it up to investigate it.’
      • ‘After a few minutes, he spies a familiar figure heading past his door.’
      • ‘She frowned and squinted when she spied a figure galloping across the lush, green hills.’
      • ‘Robert spied the sudden movement out of the corner of his eye.’
      • ‘I paused as I spied a familiar figure in the hallway, putting on a jacket.’
      • ‘It's a good time to go exploring the maze of narrow alleys, spying the old Arabian houses with overhanging balconies and brass-studded, elaborately carved teak doors.’
      • ‘When she reached for her drink, John couldn't help but spy a glimpse of her pale chest.’
      • ‘The Curragh, spiritual home of Ireland's horseracing industry, is only 20 minutes away, and you can spy million-pound horses out exercising on the downs.’
      • ‘We stopped to rest a moment right at the spot where we spied the White Ibis last year.’
    3. 1.3[with object]Collect information about something to use in deciding how to act.
      ‘he would go and spy out the land’
      • ‘Sherwin, prosecuting, said the two thieves pretended to be poachers as they spied out the land for future thefts.’
      • ‘Wilson had repeatedly sent his younger accomplice into the victim's shop to spy out the land before launching his raid.’
      • ‘‘We could sneak over and spy it out while he's not there,’ Melanie suggested.’
      • ‘Their mission, as a reconnaissance regiment, was to operate in advance of the heavy tanks, to spy out the lie of the land and report back on enemy activity and position.’

Origin

Middle English: shortening of Old French espie espying espier espy of Germanic origin, from an Indo-European root shared by Latin specere behold, look.

Pronunciation:

spy

/spī/