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am·​bush ˈam-ˌbu̇sh How to pronounce ambush (audio)
ambushed; ambushing; ambushes

transitive verb

: to attack by surprise from a hidden place : waylay
Our troops ambushed the enemy units.
… his caravan that season had been ambushed and shot at twice on the way down …Rudyard Kipling
: to station in ambush (see ambush entry 2 sense 2)
Mr and Mrs Fyne ambushed at their window—a most incredible occupation for people of their kind—saw with renewed anxiety a cab come to the door.Joseph Conrad

intransitive verb

: to lie in wait : lurk
ambusher noun
ambushment noun


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plural ambushes
: a trap in which one or more concealed attackers lie in wait to attack by surprise
soldiers caught in an ambush
Suddenly a shout comes down the line: "Contact front!" It's an ambush, with gunmen on both sides of the road.Lev Grossman
… it is plain he must have been as stupid with weariness as myself, and looked as little where we were going, or we should not have walked into an ambush like blind men.Robert Louis Stevenson
: the concealed position from which a surprise attack is made
a group of soldiers lying in ambush
… tanks alone are vulnerable to opposing infantry with antitank weapons, particularly at night when the infantry can more easily wait in ambush or approach unseen.Neil Sheehan
also : an individual or group concealed for a surprise attack
All was then dead silence; for, loquacious as he was on other occasions, Captain Dalgetty knew well the necessity of an ambush keeping itself under covert. Robert Burns
: the act of approaching or confronting someone with something unexpected
often used before another noun
ambush journalism
… did not return calls or e-mails and was hostile when a television crew conducted an ambush interview several years ago.Neely Tucker

Examples of ambush in a Sentence

Verb We have reports of enemy soldiers ambushing civilians on this road. the king's enemies planned to ambush the royal coach on the way to Paris and capture the king Noun Many soldiers were killed in the ambush. The soldiers were lying in ambush, waiting for the enemy to approach. a snake waiting in ambush for its next meal
Recent Examples on the Web
When his Bajrang Dal gang would start drinking by the highway to steel themselves for ambushing cow transporters, Poojary would not drink or join in the beatings. Gerry Shih, Washington Post, 27 Sep. 2023 But on his way to the airfield, Ross, accompanied by Yin Yang, is ambushed by Gunner Jensen, a former Expendable who was fired because of his alcoholism and extreme methods (never mind that all of the Expendables’ methods are extreme) and is now working for Munroe. Richard Newby, Vulture, 22 Sep. 2023 But, after the delivery, on the way back to Al-Rastan, the cousin took a minibus, and the vehicle was ambushed by regime troops. Ben Taub, The New Yorker, 14 Sep. 2023 Stokes allegedly hid out and ambushed his ex-girlfriend before stabbing her to death, the sheriff said. Sean Neumann, Peoplemag, 5 Sep. 2023 That episode occurred one inning after Acuña hammered the ball harder than anyone has all season, ambushing a 3-0 fastball by Dodgers rookie Emmet Sheehan that left the yard at 121.2 mph. Steve Henson, Los Angeles Times, 3 Sep. 2023 Police have not linked any of the incidents, but have said that each case has involved a group of two to four people ambushing the victims. Timothy Bella, Washington Post, 29 Aug. 2023 Two body collectors from El Geneina said that the crowd was ambushed at four or five different locations on a roughly 7-kilometer (4-mile) stretch of road between the city and Shukri, near the border with Chad. Tamara Qiblawi, CNN, 16 Aug. 2023 With two outs, Carpenter ambushed a first-pitch sinker — located over the middle of the strike zone — for a 3-0 lead. Evan Petzold, Detroit Free Press, 31 Aug. 2023
Commentators speculated that a Forbes Russia story about the tax affairs of Russia’s 100 richest individuals might have prompted the ambush. Mathias Döpfner, Fortune, 19 Sep. 2023 Investigators are looking for additional video that may match what appears to be the moment of the ambush. Doha Madani, NBC News, 17 Sep. 2023 Enter Email Sign Up Five football players were charged in Lowell Juvenile Court after the locker room ambush, including one who faces an additional count of indecent assault and battery for allegedly groping Johnathan Coucelos’ genitals. Bob Hohler,, 7 Sep. 2023 Voice messages revealed the heart-wrenching moments and chaos after the ambush. CBS News, 7 Sep. 2023 On Tuesday, 17 Nigerien soldiers were killed and 20 wounded in an ambush by armed insurgents in southwestern Niger. Elian Peltier, New York Times, 16 Aug. 2023 The alleged gang shootings included the ambush killing of four people at a January 2021 birthday party on Park Avenue in Inglewood that left a scene of blood, bullet holes and balloons — one of the city’s worst acts of violence in decades. Dist. Richard Winton, Los Angeles Times, 9 Aug. 2023 Marshal Service officials said Hernandez-Cabral was being held pending extradition to Mexico in connection with the Nov. 4, 2019, ambush that left three women and six children dead on a road in Sonora. CBS News, 7 Sep. 2023 An ambush of tigers waited, guns drawn, for the stagecoach to enter the mountain pass. J. C. Duffy, The New Yorker, 2 Sep. 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'ambush.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History



Middle English enbuschen "to place in hiding in order to attack by surprise, to hide (oneself) in order to attack by surprise," borrowed from Anglo-French embuscher "to place (in the woods) in order to attack by surprise, conceal, lie in wait to attack by surprise" (also continental Old French [Normandy & Picardy] embuschier, Picard dialect embusquier), from em- em- + -buscher, verbal derivative of Picard bus, busc "forest, grove," going back to Old Low Franconian *būska-, going back to Germanic, ablaut variant of *buska- "bush, thicket" — more at bush entry 1

Note: Forms with initial am- instead of em-, which first appear in the noun in the sixteenth century and the verb in the seventeenth century, are of uncertain origin. Given the earlier use in nouns, their appearance may be a by-product of shift of stress to the initial syllable. The suggestion in the Oxford English Dictionary, third edition, that the change is due to association with ambage, does not seem very likely. — The meaning "forest, grove" attached to *būska-, whence the Picard masculine noun bus, busc, receded early before a Gallo-Romance derivative *buska, a re-formation of the Germanic etymon as a neuter collective plural noun, taken as feminine, whence Old French busche "piece of firewood," French bûche. This new formation, also with results in Occitan and Upper Italian dialects, represents a sense shift from "bush, thicket" to "wood collected for a fire" to "split piece of wood, splinter." For a detailed discussion of Romance and Germanic outcomes of būska- see Johannes Hubschmied, "Romanisch-germanische Wortprobleme I. Zur Geschichte von bois, bûche (mit Berücksichtigung der Ortsnamen)," Vox Romanica, Band 29 (1970), pp. 114-16. Within the framework of Germanic and Indo-European ablaut patterns as now understood, a lengthened grade *būska- is questionable, and one might have to appeal to variation of expressive vocabulary within Germanic. Hubschmid, however, works within J. Pokorny's framework, where an Indo-European root with a very general meaning and form, *beu-, *bheu-, *bheuə- "to swell," is subject to an indefinite number of ablaut variants and root extensions.


earlier enbusshe, borrowed from Middle French embusche, embusque, noun derivative of embuschier "to place (in the woods) in order to attack by surprise" — more at ambush entry 1

Note: For the initial am- in place of em- see note at ambush entry 1

First Known Use


14th century, in the meaning defined at transitive sense 1


15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of ambush was in the 14th century

Dictionary Entries Near ambush

Cite this Entry

“Ambush.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 4 Oct. 2023.

Kids Definition


1 of 2 verb
am·​bush ˈam-ˌbu̇sh How to pronounce ambush (audio)
: to attack from an ambush


2 of 2 noun
: a trap in which hidden persons wait to attack by surprise

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