Definition of detective in English:

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Pronunciation: /dəˈtektiv/


1A person, especially a police officer, whose occupation is to investigate and solve crimes.
Example sentences
  • Eight of the suspects were today being quizzed by detectives at undisclosed police stations.
  • Strathclyde Police last night confirmed that detectives had investigated the matter.
  • The investigating detectives reviewed the color surveillance video at the dealership.
investigator, private investigator, private detective, police detective, operative
informal private eye, PI, sleuth, snoop, shamus, gumshoe, Sherlock
informal,, dated dick, private dick
1.1 [as modifier] Denoting a particular rank of police officer: Detective Sergeant Fox
More example sentences
  • ‘One of the prints we have found is yours,’ a Strathclyde Police detective inspector told her.
  • The Q car team will include an advanced driver, detective sergeant and a police constable.
  • He also telephoned a detective inspector and told him he was conducting a search.
1.2 [as modifier] Concerning crime and its investigation: detective work
More example sentences
  • Since the mid-nineteenth century crime and detective fiction has been a prominent part of the output of all the dominant mass media.
  • Jackson was sitting on the couch, watching some type of mystery detective crime fighting show.
  • As well as detective work, crime prevention is also a key priority.


Mid 19th century: from detect, on the pattern of pairs such as elect, elective. The noun was originally short for detective policeman, from an adjectival use of the word in the sense 'serving to detect'.

  • The development of an organized police force demanded a word such as detective, and it was duly formed in the 1840s from late Middle English detect. The first occurrences are in detective police and detective policeman; simple detective is a shortening of the latter. Charles Dickens was one of the earliest to draw attention to this innovation, reporting in his magazine Household Words in 1850 that ‘To each division of the Force is attached two officers, who are denominated “detectives”.’ See also sleuth

For editors and proofreaders

Syllabification: de·tec·tive

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