I want to indicate that a gathering of people who witnessed an activity appeared to be suspicious of what was going on around them. I'd like to write a sentence along the lines of:

A group was standing on the corner looking suspicious.

However, the sentence as-is could mean two separate things.

  • The group appeared to be suspicious of the activity

  • The group looked like they deserved suspicion for the activity.

See the first two definitions of suspicious in Merriam-Webster.

Of course, I first consulted a thesaurus to see what possible candidates would only mean suspecting others, and not deserving of suspicion.

Words like apprehensive, doubtful, or mistrusting don't match the intention of the sentence. The closest word I could find is leery. According to both OED and Merriam-Webster, "leery" is usually used with a preposition ("of" or "about") as in "He was leery of strangers."

To me, it looks awkward to write:

A group was standing on the corner looking leery.

What word or words can describe "appearing suspicious of something" without possibly implying an appearance that is itself suspect? Phrases are fine with me as long as they can fit into the structure "A group was standing on the corner... ______"

  • I guess it would be 'looking suspiciously' (at something). The sentence seems incomplete - can't you include a description of the activity?
    – Stefan
    Commented Aug 17, 2017 at 17:34
  • 1
    If you just say looking suspecious, it would probably understood as those people are arousing suspicion. It's not different from Daniel looks elegant. The phrase @Stefan suggests is better.
    – avpaderno
    Commented Aug 17, 2017 at 17:39
  • @Stefan I would like to place the action first, e.g., A lone man ran across the street and into an alley. A group was standing on the corner looking suspicious. Commented Aug 17, 2017 at 17:45
  • Use acting suspiciously if you want to be sure to mean only that.
    – Drew
    Commented Aug 17, 2017 at 18:08
  • 'casting a wary eye around them' ?
    – Tom22
    Commented Aug 18, 2017 at 1:16

1 Answer 1


Yes, "looking suspicious" suggests that something about the group's appearance merits suspicion. One of these options might better convey your meaning:

The group was standing at the corner, looking on suspiciously.

You could also use "watching suspiciously," or rephrase this way:

The group watched suspiciously as [the activity transpired].

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