[ kuhn-ing ]
See synonyms for: cunningcunningscunninglycunningness on

  1. skill employed in a shrewd or sly manner, as in deceiving; craftiness; guile.

  2. adeptness in performance; dexterity: The weaver's hand had not lost its cunning.

  1. showing or made with ingenuity.

  2. artfully subtle or shrewd; crafty; sly.

  1. Informal. charmingly cute or appealing: a cunning little baby.

  2. Archaic. skillful; expert.

  1. Obsolete. present participle of can1.

Origin of cunning

First recorded in 1275–1325; (noun) Middle English; Old English cunnung, equivalent to cunn(an) “to know” (see can1) + -ung -ing1; (adjective, verb) Middle English, present participle of cunnan “to know” (see can1, -ing2)

synonym study For cunning

1. Cunning, artifice, craft imply an inclination toward deceit, slyness, and trickery. Cunning implies a shrewd, often instinctive skill in concealing or disguising the real purposes of one's actions: not intelligence but a low kind of cunning. An artifice is a clever, unscrupulous ruse, used to mislead others: a successful artifice to conceal one's motives. Craft suggests underhand methods and the use of deceptive devices and tricks to attain one's ends: craft and deceitfulness in every act.

Other words for cunning

1 shrewdness, artfulness, wiliness, slyness, trickery, intrigue, deception
2 adeptness, adroitness, agility, skillfulness
3 ingenious, skillful
4 artful, wily, tricky, foxy
See synonyms for cunning on

Other words from cunning

  • cun·ning·ly, adverb
  • cun·ning·ness, noun
  • o·ver·cun·ning, adjective
  • o·ver·cun·ning·ness, noun
  • qua·si-cun·ning, adjective

Words Nearby cunning Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023

How to use cunning in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for cunning


/ (ˈkʌnɪŋ) /

  1. crafty and shrewd, esp in deception; sly: cunning as a fox

  2. made with or showing skill or cleverness; ingenious

  1. craftiness, esp in deceiving; slyness

  2. cleverness, skill, or ingenuity

Origin of cunning

Old English cunnende; related to cunnan to know (see can 1), cunnian to test, experience, Old Norse kunna to know

Derived forms of cunning

  • cunningly, adverb
  • cunningness, 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