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Overtly vs. Covertly — What's the Difference?

Edited by Tayyaba Rehman — By Maham Liaqat — Updated on May 9, 2024
Overtly involves open, observable actions, while covertly implies hidden, secretive behaviors.
Overtly vs. Covertly — What's the Difference?

Difference Between Overtly and Covertly


Key Differences

Overtly refers to doing something openly, without concealment, where actions are clearly visible to others. Conversely, covertly is characterized by secrecy or concealment, where actions are deliberately kept hidden from public view.
In communication, someone may express their opinions overtly, making their views publicly known. Whereas, covertly, a person might spread their opinions subtly, through indirect means without revealing their identity.
Overtly can be associated with transparency and candor in actions or statements. On the other hand, acting covertly often involves deception or stealth, commonly used to avoid detection or to maintain confidentiality.
In politics, policies might be promoted overtly through public announcements and media campaigns. In contrast, covert operations are undertaken quietly, without drawing public attention, to achieve strategic goals discreetly.
Overtly engaging in activities can foster an atmosphere of trust and openness. Meanwhile, engaging covertly can sometimes be necessary to protect privacy or sensitive information but may also lead to mistrust if discovered.

Comparison Chart


Actions are visible and open to observation
Actions are hidden and secretive


Direct and clear
Indirect and ambiguous

Common Usage

In transparent policies, public statements
In espionage, private investigations

Associated Values

Transparency, honesty
Secrecy, confidentiality


Can foster trust if aligned with honesty
Often associated with deception if uncovered

Compare with Definitions


Manifestly and publicly.
The company overtly supports environmental initiatives.


Privately or confidentially.
They discussed the issue covertly to avoid rumors.


Without subtlety; straightforwardly.
The manager overtly favors a transparent communication style.


In a manner intended to avoid detection.
The agent moved covertly through the crowd.


Clearly observable; not hiding intentions.
She overtly displayed her displeasure during the discussions.


In a secretive or concealed manner.
She covertly gathered information without anyone noticing.


Acting in an open and unhidden manner.
He overtly criticized the new policy during the meeting.


Using discreet or stealthy actions.
She covertly slipped the note into her pocket.


In a manner apparent to all.
He overtly shares updates to ensure everyone is informed.


Hidden from view; not openly acknowledged.
He covertly made arrangements to surprise her.


Open and observable; not hidden, concealed, or secret
Overt hostility.
Overt intelligence gathering.


Not openly practiced, avowed, engaged in, accumulated, or shown
Covert military operations.
Covert funding for the rebels.


Of, relating to, or being military or intelligence operations sanctioned or mandated by Congress
Overt aid to the rebels.


Covered or covered over; sheltered.


In an overt manner; publicly; openly.


(Law) Under former English common law, married and therefore falling under the authority and protection of one's husband. Used of a woman.


Publicly; openly.


A covering or cover.


In an overt manner;
He did it overtly


A covered place or shelter; hiding place.


Thick underbrush or woodland affording cover for game.


(Zoology) One of the small feathers covering the bases of the longer feathers of a bird's wings or tail.


In a covert manner, secretly.


Secretly; in private; insidiously.


In a covert manner;
He did it covertly

Common Curiosities

Is covertly always negative?

Covert actions are not inherently negative; they can be protective or strategic, though they may be perceived negatively if discovered.

What does overtly mean?

Overtly refers to actions or behaviors that are done openly and visibly.

What does covertly mean?

Covertly describes actions or behaviors that are hidden or secretive.

Is overtly always positive?

Not necessarily; overt actions can be negative if they involve openly harmful behaviors.

Can someone act both overtly and covertly?

Yes, someone might act overtly in some circumstances and covertly in others, depending on their goals.

Why might a government operate covertly?

Governments might operate covertly for reasons related to national security, diplomacy, or sensitive operations.

How does overtly differ from explicitly?

Overtly emphasizes the visibility of actions, whereas explicitly focuses on the clarity and directness of expressions.

What are the risks of acting covertly?

Acting covertly can lead to mistrust and skepticism, especially if the covert actions are uncovered.

How does covertly differ from secretly?

Both terms imply hidden actions, but covertly often carries a connotation of strategic planning and purpose.

What are the risks of acting overtly?

Acting overtly can lead to vulnerability or exposure to criticism if the actions are not well-received.

Can overtly and covertly be used in legal terms?

Yes, both terms can be used in legal contexts to describe the nature of actions relevant to the case.

In what situations might covert actions be justified?

Covert actions might be justified in contexts requiring privacy, security, or when protecting sensitive information.

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Author Spotlight

Written by
Maham Liaqat
Tayyaba Rehman is a distinguished writer, currently serving as a primary contributor to As a researcher in semantics and etymology, Tayyaba's passion for the complexity of languages and their distinctions has found a perfect home on the platform. Tayyaba delves into the intricacies of language, distinguishing between commonly confused words and phrases, thereby providing clarity for readers worldwide.

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