noun, plural spies.

verb (used without object), spied, spy·ing.

verb (used with object), spied, spy·ing.

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 formsspy·ship, nounout·spy, verb (used with object), out·spied, out·spy·ing.su·per·spy, noun, plural su·per·spies.un·spied, adjectiveun·spy·ing, adjective
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for spy

Contemporary Examples of spy

Historical Examples of spy

  • It was suggested by a plate of apples that he happened to spy on the mantel-piece.

    The Three Golden Apples

    Nathaniel Hawthorne

  • Then she ran away and would not play "I spy" or "Tig" any more.

    The Foolish Lovers

    St. John G. Ervine

  • That the spy will fabricate his information is a mere commonplace.

    The Secret Agent

    Joseph Conrad

  • A spy of that sort can afford to be more reckless than the most reckless of conspirators.

    The Secret Agent

    Joseph Conrad

  • But when he was ill, he had a nurse whom I began to suspect as a spy.

    It Happened in Egypt

    C. N. Williamson

British Dictionary definitions for spy


noun plural 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 or spied

(intr usually foll by on) to keep a secret or furtive watch (on)
(intr) to engage in espionage
(tr) to catch sight of; descry

Word Origin for spy

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

Word Origin and History for spy

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