He studied law and practised for a time as an advocate, but eventually took orders and after various promotions became abbé of Chalivoy in the diocese of Bourges in 1662. In his leisure moments he devoted himself to letters, and in virtue of his satires—Nouvelle Allégorique, ou histoire des derniers troubles arrivés au royaume d'éloquence (1658) and Voyage de Mercure (1653)—he was admitted as a member of the Académie française in 1662. The academy had long promised a complete dictionary of the French language; and when the members heard that Furetière was on the point of issuing a work of a similar nature, they interfered, alleging that he had purloined from their stores and that they possessed the exclusive privilege of publishing such a book.
After much recrimination on both sides, Furetière was expelled in 1685; but he took revenge in his satire, Couches de l'académie (Amsterdam, 1687). His Dictionnaire universel was posthumously published in 1690 (Rotterdam, 2 vols.). It was revised and improved by the Protestant jurist Henri Basnage de Beauval (1656–1710), who published his edition (3 vols.) in 1701, and it was superseded only by the compilation known as the Dictionnaire de Trévoux (Paris, 3 vols., 1704; 7th ed., 5 vols., 1771), a lexicon with which some Jesuits were occasionally affiliated and that drew heavily from the Dictionnaire universel.
Furetière also wrote Le Roman bourgeois (1666), which cast ridicule on the fashionable romances of Madeleine de Scudéry and of Gauthier de Costes, seigneur de la Calprenède, and described the everyday life of his times, especially the legal profession. Because of its similarity to Paul Scarron's Le Roman comique (1651, 1657), it was translated into English as Scarron's City Romance in 1671. With a self-conscious narrator who comments on his techniques and disregards the conventions of the novel, it anticipates Laurence Sterne's Tristram Shandy in many ways. A collected Fureteriana appeared in Paris eight years after his death.