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[dek-struh s, -ster-uh s] /ˈdɛk strəs, -stər əs/
skillful or adroit in the use of the hands or body.
having mental adroitness or skill; clever.
done with skill or adroitness.
Also, dextrous.
Origin of dexterous
1595-1605; < Latin dexter right-hand, skillful + -ous
Related forms
dexterously, adverb
dexterousness, noun
nondexterous, adjective
nondexterously, adverb
nondexterousness, noun
undexterous, adjective
undexterously, adverb
undexterousness, noun
Can be confused
dexterous, dextrose (see synonym study at the current entry)
1. deft, nimble, handy. 1, 2. expert, apt, able, quick. Dexterous, adroit, deft, skillful, handy all imply facility and ease in performance. Dexterous and adroit both referred originally to right-handedness. Dexterous is still most often used to refer to manual or physical ability but can also refer to mental or social agility: a dexterous wood carver; dexterous management of a potentially embarrassing situation. Adroit implies cleverness or mental acuity, occasionally complex physical skill: an adroit politician; an adroit juggler. Deft suggests a light and assured touch, either physical or mental: deft manipulation of the sensitive controls, of public opinion. Skillful is the most general of these synonyms and can be substituted in most contexts for any of the foregoing, sacrificing only the overtones or connotations of each: a skillful performer. Handy applies mainly to physical skill, often achieved without formal training: handy with tools.
1. clumsy. 2. inept. 3. awkward. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2016.
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Examples from the Web for dexterous
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • But let us look at this subject a little, and see if there is not some sophistry concealed in this dexterous coil of words.

  • He appears to have been a most dexterous as well as consummate villain.

    Life On The Mississippi, Complete Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens)
  • Then suddenly he snapped himself erect and with a single, dexterous movement holstered the weapon.

    The Coming of the Law Charles Alden Seltzer
  • The most brilliant salons have always been created by dexterous listeners.

  • Shrewd and dexterous as the police may be, they are always under certain disadvantages.

    An Historical Mystery Honore de Balzac
  • Our guides were most dexterous riders, and proved also most kind and attentive.

    A Girl's Ride in Iceland Ethel Brilliana Alec-Tweedie
  • His excellent composition and the most dexterous of all our artists in a certain kind of composition.

British Dictionary definitions for dexterous


possessing or done with dexterity
a rare word for right-handed
Derived Forms
dexterously, dextrously, adverb
dexterousness, dextrousness, noun
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for dexterous

c.1600, "convenient, suitable," formed in English from Latin dexter (see dexterity) + -ous. Meaning "skillful, clever" is from 1620s.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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