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[spahy] /spaɪ/
noun, plural spies.
a person employed by a government to obtain secret information or intelligence about another, usually hostile, country, especially with reference to military or naval affairs.
a person who keeps close and secret watch on the actions and words of another or others.
a person who seeks to obtain confidential information about the activities, plans, methods, etc., of an organization or person, especially one who is employed for this purpose by a competitor:
an industrial spy.
the act of spying.
verb (used without object), spied, spying.
to observe secretively or furtively with hostile intent (often followed by on or upon).
to act as a spy; engage in espionage.
to be on the lookout; keep watch.
to search for or examine something closely or carefully.
verb (used with object), spied, spying.
to catch sight of suddenly; espy; descry:
to spy a rare bird overhead.
to discover or find out by observation or scrutiny (often followed by out).
to observe (a person, place, enemy, etc.) secretively or furtively with hostile intent.
to inspect or examine or to search or look for closely or carefully.
Origin of spy
1200-50; (v.) Middle English spien, aphetic variant of espien to espy; (noun) Middle English, aphetic variant of espy a spy < Old French espie
Related forms
spyship, noun
outspy, verb (used with object), outspied, outspying.
superspy, noun, plural superspies.
unspied, adjective
unspying, adjective Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018.
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Examples from the Web for spy out
Historical Examples
  • Why, he's heard we're married, an' come over here to spy out the land.

    Tiverton Tales Alice Brown
  • I promise that I will seek for no note, nor spy out any ring or bracelet.

    The First Violin Jessie Fothergill
  • Indeed, many helots are there, who come from Philistia to spy out the Land.

    The Book of Khalid Ameen Rihani
  • He's promised me a dollar if I can spy out where he can meet her alone.

    Erdgeist (Earth-Spirit) Frank Wedekind
  • I wonder if you can spy out Grip and the Captain in the picture.

  • Then there is a new book, which you may spy out if you will look sharp.

  • You are a Houseman, and you have come to spy out the secrets of Doom the Forbidden.

    The Doomsman Van Tassel Sutphen
  • Most like a rascally Jesuit come to spy out some ways to brew mischief.'

    Penshurst Castle Emma Marshall
  • A committee was sent by the Assembly to spy out his conduct.

    Louis Philippe

    John S. C. (John Stevens Cabot) Abbott
  • When he was a racer I trained him in the sea so that none of the touts could spy out his form.

    The Man Bram Stoker
British Dictionary definitions for spy out

spy out

verb (transitive, adverb)
to discover by careful observation: to spy out a route
to make a close scrutiny of: to spy out the land


noun (pl) spies
a person employed by a state or institution to obtain secret information from rival countries, organizations, companies, etc
a person who keeps secret watch on others
(obsolete) a close view
verb spies, spying, spied
(intransitive) usually foll by on. to keep a secret or furtive watch (on)
(intransitive) to engage in espionage
(transitive) to catch sight of; descry
Word Origin
C13 spien, from Old French espier, of Germanic origin; related to Old High German spehōn, Middle Dutch spien
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 spy out



mid-13c., from Old French espier "to spy," probably from Frankish *spehon, from Proto-Germanic *spekh- (cf. Old High German *spehon "to look out for, scout, spy," German spähen "to spy," Middle Dutch spien), the Germanic survivals of the productive PIE root *spek- "to look" (see scope (n.1)).



mid-13c., "one who spies on another," From Old French espie, probably from a Germanic source (see spy (v.)).

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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