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See more synonyms for spy on Thesaurus.com
noun, plural spies.
  1. 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.
  2. a person who keeps close and secret watch on the actions and words of another or others.
  3. 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.
  4. the act of spying.
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verb (used without object), spied, spy·ing.
  1. to observe secretively or furtively with hostile intent (often followed by on or upon).
  2. to act as a spy; engage in espionage.
  3. to be on the lookout; keep watch.
  4. to search for or examine something closely or carefully.
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verb (used with object), spied, spy·ing.
  1. to catch sight of suddenly; espy; descry: to spy a rare bird overhead.
  2. to discover or find out by observation or scrutiny (often followed by out).
  3. to observe (a person, place, enemy, etc.) secretively or furtively with hostile intent.
  4. to inspect or examine or to search or look for closely or carefully.
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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. 2018

Related Words for spying

surveillance, espionage, observing, prying, bugging, voyeurism, espial, following, wiretapping

Examples from the Web for spying

Contemporary Examples of spying

Historical Examples of spying

  • That's the only incentive you can suggest for spying, unconnected with my affairs?

    It Happened in Egypt

    C. N. Williamson

  • I congratulate you on the success of your first attempt at spying.

    The Dare Boys of 1776

    Stephen Angus Cox

  • I suppose Tris Penrose has been spying me and telling tales to father and you.

    A Singer from the Sea

    Amelia Edith Huddleston Barr

  • She passed quickly by, so as not to seem to be spying on them.


    Emile Zola

  • Whereupon I turned to the spying friar and said; 'Hand me your robe and cowl.'

British Dictionary definitions for spying


noun plural spies
  1. a person employed by a state or institution to obtain secret information from rival countries, organizations, companies, etc
  2. a person who keeps secret watch on others
  3. obsolete a close view
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verb spies, spying or spied
  1. (intr usually foll by on) to keep a secret or furtive watch (on)
  2. (intr) to engage in espionage
  3. (tr) to catch sight of; descry
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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 spying



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)).

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

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Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper