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From art (skill that is attained by study, practice, or observation) +‎ -ful (suffix forming adjectives from nouns, with the sense of being full of, tending to, or thoroughly possessing the quality expressed by the noun).[1]



artful (comparative more artful, superlative most artful)

  1. Characterized by, or performed with, cleverness or contrivance; clever, ingenious.
  2. Not naturally produced; artificial; imitative.
  3. Exhibiting or using much art or skill; dexterous; skilful.
    Synonym: adroit
    • 1605 (first performance), Benjamin Jonson [i.e., Ben Jonson], “Volpone, or The Foxe. A Comœdie. []”, in The Workes of Ben Jonson (First Folio), London: [] Will[iam] Stansby, published 1616, OCLC 960101342, Act III, scene vii, page 490:
      [W]e, in changed ſhapes, act Ovid's tales, / [] / Then vvill I haue thee in more moderne formes, / Attired like ſome ſprightly dame of France, / Braue Tuſcan lady, or proud Spaniſh beauty; / Sometimes, vnto the Perſian Sophies vvife; / Or the grand-Signiors miſtreſſe; and, for change, / To one of our moſt art-full courtizans, []
    • 1608, [Guillaume de Salluste Du Bartas], “[Du Bartas His First VVeek, or Birth of the VVorld: [].] The Sixt Daie of the First VVeek.”, in Josuah Sylvester, transl., Du Bartas His Deuine Weekes and Workes [], 3rd edition, London: [] Humfrey Lownes [and are to be sold by Arthur Iohnson []], published 1611, OCLC 1181680849, page 149:
      VVhat ſtrength of arm, or Art-full ſtratagem, / From Nile’s fell Rover could deliver them, / VVho runs, and rovves, vvarring by Land and VVater / 'Gainſt Men and Fiſhes, ſubiect to his ſlaughter?
      A reference to the crocodile.
    • 1634 October 9 (first performance), [John Milton], H[enry] Lawes, editor, A Maske Presented at Ludlow Castle, 1634: [] [Comus], London: [] [Augustine Matthews] for Hvmphrey Robinson, [], published 1637, OCLC 228715864; reprinted as Comus: [] (Dodd, Mead & Company’s Facsimile Reprints of Rare Books; Literature Series; no. I), New York, N.Y.: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1903, OCLC 1113942837, page 17:
      Spir[it]. VVhat voice is that, my yong Lord? ſpeak agen. [] Eld[er] bro[ther]. Thyrſis? vvhoſe artfull ſtrains have oft delayed / The huddling brook to heare his madrigale, / And ſvveeten'd every muskroſe of the dale, []
    • 1718, Homer; [Alexander] Pope, transl., “Book XIV”, in The Iliad of Homer, volume IV, London: [] W[illiam] Bowyer, for Bernard Lintott [], OCLC 670734254, lines 204–206, page 102:
      Her artful Hands the radiant Treſſes ty'd; / Part on her Head in ſhining Ringlets roll'd, / Part o'er her Shoulders vvav'd like melted Gold.
    • 1841 February–November, Charles Dickens, “Barnaby Rudge”, in Master Humphrey’s Clock, volume III, London: Chapman & Hall, [], OCLC 633494058, chapter 74, page 371:
      His warming on this topic, which to one unacquainted with his pursuits and tastes appeared like courage; together with his artful suppression of his own secret hopes, and mention of himself as being in the same condition with Hugh; did more to soothe that ruffian than the most elaborate arguments could have done, or the most abject submission.
    • 1906 April, O. Henry [pseudonym; William Sydney Porter], “After Twenty Years”, in The Four Million, New York, N.Y.: McClure, Phillips & Co, OCLC 1399985, page 214:
      The policeman on the beat moved up the avenue impressively. [] Trying doors as he went, twirling his club with many intricate and artful movements, turning now and then to cast his watchful eye adown the pacific thoroughfare, the officer, with his stalwart form and slight swagger, made a fine picture of a guardian of the peace.
  4. (especially) Skilful at using dishonest or unfair means to achieve a purpose; crafty, cunning.
    Synonyms: deceitful, underhand; see also Thesaurus:wily
  5. (obsolete) Knowledgeable about the liberal arts; learned, wise.

Alternative forms[edit]

Derived terms[edit]


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  1. ^ artful, adj. (and n.)”, in OED Online Paid subscription required, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, December 2021; “artful, adj.”, in Lexico,; Oxford University Press, 2019–2022.