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This page has 11 definitions of espy in English. Espy is a verb and noun. Examples of how to use espy in a sentence are shown. Also define these 32 related words and terms: find out, observe, easy, see, spy, look, catch sight of, spot, descry, discern, discover, foreplan, unexpectedly, examine, carefully, watch, ἐνιαυτός, become, aware, fact, information, act, observing, espial, espying, scout, process, learn, secret, clandestine, means, and espionage.

See also: Espy



Etymology 1

From Middle English aspien, espien (to make covert observations of (a person or place) with hostile intent, to spy on; to seek to discover by spying; to act as a spy; to catch sight of, see; to look over, observe; to wait in ambush, to ambush; to plot against; to look for, seek to find; to inquire or look into, investigate; to discover, find) [and other forms],[1] from Old French espier (to watch) (modern French épier (to keep an eye on, watch; to spy on; (dated) to watch for)), from Vulgar Latin *spiāre, from Frankish *spehōn (to look, peer; to spy), from Proto-Germanic *spehōną (to look, peer; to spy), from Proto-Indo-European *speḱ- (to look, observe, see).[2] Doublet of spy.


espy (third-person singular simple present espies, present participle espying, simple past and past participle espied)

  1. (transitive)
    1. To find out or observe (someone or something, especially if not easy to see) by spying or looking; to catch sight of; to see; to spot.
      Synonyms: descry, discern, discover; see also Thesaurus:spot
      to espy land    to espy a man in a crowd
    2. To see (someone or something) without foreplanning or unexpectedly.
    3. (obsolete)
      1. To observe (someone or something) as a spy; also, to examine or observe (someone or something) carefully; or to look out or watch for.
        • 1530 December 11 (date written; Gregorian calendar)​​, Hugh Latimer, “The Letter of Maister Latimer Written to King Henry [VIII], Answering to the foresaid Inhibition of the Byshops”, in John Foxe, Actes and Monuments of These Latter and Perillous Dayes, [], London: [] Iohn Day, [], published 30 March 1563, OCLC 64451939, book V, page [1415], column 2:
          Remember the subtyle worldly wyse Counsellours of Hāmon, the sonne of Naas, king of the Amonites, which when Dauid had sent hys seruauntes to comfort the yong kyng, for the death of hys father, by craftye imaginacions counselled Hāmon not alonely not to receiue them gently, but to entreate them most shamefullye and cruellye, sayinge that they came not to comforte hym, but to espye and search hys lande, so that afterward they brynging Dauid woorde howe euerye thynge stoode, Dauid myghte come and conquer it.
          Page 1346 in the print version of the work.
        • c. 1588–1593, [William Shakespeare], The Most Lamentable Romaine Tragedie of Titus Andronicus: [] (First Quarto), London: [] Iohn Danter, and are to be sold by Edward White & Thomas Millington, [], published 1594, OCLC 222241046, [Act II, scene iii]:
          Novv queſtion me no more vve are eſpied, / Here comes a parcell of our hopefull bootie, / VVhich dreads not yet their liues deſtruction.
        • 1611, The Holy Bible, [] (King James Version), London: [] Robert Barker, [], OCLC 964384981, Joshua 14:7, column 2:
          Fortie yeeres olde was I when Moſes the ſeruant of the Lord ſent me from Kadeſh Barnea, to eſpie out the land, and I brought him worde againe, as it was in mine heart.
        • 1651, Jer[emy] Taylor, “[XXVIII Sermons Preached at Golden Grove; Being for the Summer Half-year, [].] Sermon III. The Descending and Entailed Curse Cut Off.”, in ΕΝΙΑΥΤΟΣ [Eniautos]. A Course of Sermons for All the Sundays of the Year. [], 2nd edition, London: [] Richard Royston [], published 1654, OCLC 1051524189, pages 29–30:
          VVe keep company vvith Harlots and polluted perſons: vve are kind to all Gods Enemies, and love that vvhich he hates: [] And therefore God is inquiſitive; he looks for that vvhich he fain vvould never finde; God ſets ſpies upon us; he looks upon us himſelf through the Curtains of a cloud; and he ſends Angels to eſpie us in all our vvayes, []
      2. To become aware of (a fact, information, etc.).
        • 1640, Fra[ncis] Quarles, “[The First Century.] Chapter LXXIII.”, in Enchiridion: Containing Institutions, Divine, Contemplative, Practical. Moral, Ethical, Oeconomicall, Politicall, London: [] R. F., published 1644, OCLC 265536239, 1st book:
          If being the Commander of an army, thou eſpieſt a groſſe and manifeſt error in thine Enemy, look vvell to thy ſelfe, for treachery is not farre off: Hee vvhom deſire of victory binds too much, is apt to ſtumble at his ovvne Ruine.
        • 1648, Joseph Beaumont, “Canto XVII. The Mortification.”, in Psyche: Or Loves Mysterie, [], London: [] George Boddington, [], published 1651, OCLC 1227528801, stanza 201, page 330, column 1:
          VVhat faults ſoever Thou eſpieſt here, / Fall to, and make thee merry vvith the Cheer.
        • 1670, [Edward Wetenhall], “A Form of Prayer, Made as the Other, which May be Used in Our Evening Privacy”, in Enter into Thy Closet: Or, A Method and Order for Private Devotion. [], 3rd edition, London: [] John Martyn, [], OCLC 70377557, pages 97–98:
          O Moſt and Gracious Father, the ſearcher of all hearts; vvho ſeeſt my dovvn-lying as vvell as up riſing, darkneſs and light being both alike to thee; vvho art near unto all my vvays, and eſpyeſt my thoughts vvhile they are yet afar off, I have here ſet my ſelf before thee to pay my evening homage, []
    • Spy definition
      A person who secretly watches and examines the actions of other individuals or organizations and gathers information on them (usually to gain an advantage).
    • Catch Sight Of definition
      to see for a brief period; to get a glimpse of
    • Foreplan definition
      A plan, device, or strategy created in advance.
    • Fact definition
      Something actual as opposed to invented. (1 of 9 fact definitions)
    • Information definition
      That which resolves uncertainty; anything that answers the question of "what a given entity is". (1 of 14 information definitions)
  2. (intransitive, archaic) To observe as a spy, to spy; also, to examine or observe carefully; or to look out or watch.
Alternative forms
Derived terms
Related terms

Etymology 2

From Middle English aspie, espie (covert investigation or observation, scouting, spying; information obtained through spying; secret and treacherous plan, plot; treachery; a scout or spy) [and other forms],[3] from Anglo-Norman espie, Old French espie, from espier (verb): see further at etymology 1.[4]


espy (countable and uncountable, plural espies) (obsolete)

  1. (countable)
    1. An act of finding out or observing by spying or looking; an espial or espying.
      • 1599, Richard Hakluyt, “After the Chapitles of Commodities of Diuers Lands, Sheweth the Conclusion of Keeping of the Sea Enuiron, by a Storie of King Edgar, and Two Incidents of King Edward the Third, and King Henrie the Fifth”, in The Principal Nauigations, Voyages, Traffiques and Discoueries of the English Nation, [], 2nd edition, London: [] George Bishop, Ralph Newberie, and Robert Barker, OCLC 29830237, page 203:
        Howe the right and lawes of the land / Were execute, and who durſt take in hand / To diſobey his ſtatutes and decrees, / If they were well kept in all countrees: / Of theſe he made ſubtile inueſtigation / Of his owne eſpie, and other mens relation.
      • 1608, Edward Topsell, “Of the Winged Dragon”, in The Historie of Serpents. Or, The Second Booke of Liuing Creatures: [], London: [] William Jaggard, OCLC 78684515, page 168:
        When as the Eagle, Ioves great bird, did ſee her enemy, / Sharpe warre in th' ayre with beake ſhe did prepare / Gainſt Serpent feeding in the wood, after eſpy / Cauſe it her egges and young fiercely in peeces tare.
    2. A scout or spy.
      • 1624, John Smith, “Here Followeth a Briefe Discourse of the Trials of New England, with Certaine Obseruations of the Hollanders Use and Gaine by Fishing, and the Present Estate of that Happy Plantation, Begun but by Sixtie Weake Men, in the Yeere of Our Lord 1620. and How to Build a Fleet of Good Ships to Make a Little Nauy Royall, by the Former Author”, in The Generall Historie of Virginia, New-England, and the Summer Isles: [], London: [] I[ohn] D[awson] and I[ohn] H[aviland] for Michael Sparkes, OCLC 1049014009, book 6; reprinted in The Generall Historie of Virginia, [...] (Bibliotheca Americana), Cleveland, Oh.: The World Publishing Company, 1966, OCLC 633956660, page 235:
        Hobomak as confidently aſſured vs it was falſe, and ſent his vvife as an eſpy to ſee; []
    • Scout definition
      A person sent out to gain and bring in tidings; especially, one employed in war to gain information about the enemy and ground. (1 of 11 scout definitions)
  2. (uncountable) The act or process of learning secret information through clandestine means; espionage.
    • Espionage definition
      The act or process of learning secret information through clandestine means.


  1. ^ aspīen, v.”, in MED Online, Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan, 2007.
  2. ^ Compare “espy, v.”, in OED Online , Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, December 2020; “espy, v.”, in Unabridged,, LLC, 1995–present, reproduced from Stuart Berg Flexner, editor in chief, Random House Unabridged Dictionary, 2nd edition, New York, N.Y.: Random House, 1993, →ISBN.
  3. ^ aspīe, n.”, in MED Online, Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan, 2007.
  4. ^ † espy, n.”, in OED Online , Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, March 2021.