skill employed in a shrewd or sly manner, as in deceiving; craftiness; guile.
adeptness in performance; dexterity: The weaver's hand lost its cunning.



Obsolete. present participle of can1.

Origin of cunning

1275–1325; (noun) Middle English; Old English cunnung, equivalent to cunn(an) to know (see can1) + -ung -ing1; (adj., v.) Middle English, present participle of cunnan to know (see can1, -ing2)
Related formscun·ning·ly, adverbcun·ning·ness, nouno·ver·cun·ning, adjectiveo·ver·cun·ning·ly, adverbo·ver·cun·ning·ness, nounqua·si-cun·ning, adjectivequa·si-cun·ning·ly, adverb

Synonyms for cunning

Synonym study

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. Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for cunningly

Contemporary Examples of cunningly

  • Raptly, they drink in the cunningly arranged open floor plan.

    The Daily Beast logo
    Beyond Stainless

    Megan McArdle

    October 19, 2012

Historical Examples of cunningly

  • But so cunningly contrived a mizmaze was never seen in the world, before nor since.

    Tanglewood Tales

    Nathaniel Hawthorne

  • I must tell you, to keep your writings concealed so cunningly.

    Clarissa, Volume 2 (of 9)

    Samuel Richardson

  • She was drawing at a table, cunningly placed at right angles to the window.

  • A dream of a dress that would be, with all the shades of Madame Abel cunningly blended.

  • So have we cunningly hid the tragedy of limitation and inner death we cannot avert.

    Essays, Second Series

    Ralph Waldo Emerson

British Dictionary definitions for cunningly



crafty and shrewd, esp in deception; slycunning as a fox
made with or showing skill or cleverness; ingenious


craftiness, esp in deceiving; slyness
cleverness, skill, or ingenuity
Derived Formscunningly, adverbcunningness, noun

Word Origin for cunning

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

Word Origin and History for cunningly



early 14c., "learned, skillful," present participle of cunnen "to know" (see can (v.1)). Sense of "skillfully deceitful" is probably late 14c. As a noun from c.1300. Related: Cunningly.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper