du·​ress | \du̇-ˈres also dyu̇- \

Definition of duress 


1 : forcible restraint or restriction while the German army was still held in duress by the Versailles treaty— S. L. A. Marshall

2 : compulsion (see compulsion sense 1a) by threat gave the statement under duress specifically : unlawful constraint held under duress

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Duress: Its Origin and Relations

Duress is a word of hardy stock. It has been a part of the English language since the 14th century, and has a number of long-lived relatives. Duress itself came into Middle English through the Anglo-French duresce (meaning "hardness" or "severity"), which stems from Latin durus, meaning "hard." Some obvious relatives of this robust root are durable, endure, and obdurate (meaning "unyielding" or "hardened in feelings"). Some others are dour (meaning "harsh," "unyielding," or "gloomy") and during.

Examples of duress in a Sentence

He gave the information under duress. complied with the order only under duress

Recent Examples on the Web

The person, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Crown Prince Mohammed had approved interrogating or even forcing Khashoggi to return to Saudi Arabia under duress. David D. Kirkpatrick, The Seattle Times, "Interrogation gone wrong, rogue killers: What happened to Saudi journalist?," 16 Oct. 2018 The Central District Court has ruled that confessions obtained under duress from suspects in the Duma arson attack that claimed the lives of three members of the Dawabshe family in 2015 are inadmissible. Shlomi Diaz, Sun-Sentinel.com, "Israeli Court strikes down key evidence in Duma arson case," 20 June 2018 Critics are protesting that his move reveals political shallowness, subverts the justice system and sends a message to aides under duress from special counsel Robert Mueller. Stephen Collinson, CNN, "Trump has many motivations -- but power rules them all," 1 June 2018 Steve Kerr has a tendency to stay seated during times his Warriors team faces duress, a trait notably associated with Phil Jackson, whom Kerr played for while the Bulls enjoyed their second three-peat. K.c. Johnson, chicagotribune.com, "Former Bulls assistant Ron Adams is the 'truth teller' on Steve Kerr's Warriors staff," 2 June 2018 His lawyer Bryan Johnson plans to argue that Henry committed the murder under duress, like a child soldier. Hannah Dreier, Daily Intelligencer, "Teenage MS-13 Gang Informant Heads Into Final Asylum Hearing," 5 Apr. 2018 Now add duress, noise and inexperience and the equation changes in ways that no one can accurately predict. Mac Engel, star-telegram, "Four years later, arming teachers/coaches back on the table | Fort Worth Star-Telegram," 22 Feb. 2018 In contrast, a 25-minute essay completed under duress in a sterile testing center exposes one’s thinking and writing ability. WSJ, "Make Students Prove Their Writing Skills," 12 July 2018 More than 100 of Pennsylvania’s 700 nursing homes have been through financial reorganizations or were sold under duress in the last five years, according to the Pennsylvania Health Care Association. Harold Brubaker, Philly.com, "St. Francis nursing home made sky-high profits. Then it was sanctioned for neglect," 12 June 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'duress.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of duress

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for duress

Middle English duresse, from Anglo-French duresce hardness, severity, from Latin duritia, from durus — see during

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Dictionary Entries near duress






durfee grass


Statistics for duress

Last Updated

7 Dec 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for duress

The first known use of duress was in the 15th century

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More Definitions for duress



Financial Definition of duress

What It Is

Duress is pressure that one person or entity puts on another person to do something that he or she would normally not do.

How It Works

Let's say Artie owns a restaurant called Vesuvio. One day, a big bald guy comes into the place and tells Artie that he has to sign a contract to start buying linens from his friend or he'll "make life hard."

Artie, fearing that he'll be harmed physically or that the restaurant will be vandalized, agrees to buy linens from the friend, even though they cost twice as much as those from other distributors.

Artie has made the agreement under duress.

Why It Matters

Using force, false imprisonment, threats or psychological pressure to make someone do something he or she normally wouldn't do is illegal and can negate any contracts that result from duress.

Accordingly, in our example, if Artie were brave enough to stop buying the linens, he could tell the court that he signed the contract under duress.

Source: Investing Answers



English Language Learners Definition of duress

: force or threats meant to make someone do something


du·​ress | \du̇-ˈres, dyu̇- \

Legal Definition of duress 

: wrongful and usually unlawful compulsion (as threats of physical violence) that induces a person to act against his or her will : coercion also : the affirmative defense of having acted under duress — see also economic duress — compare necessity, undue influence

Note: A person may be able to avoid the consequences of his or her acts under the law if they were performed while under duress. For example, a contract made under duress is voidable by the coerced party. Similarly, a will signed under duress is invalid. Duress may also be used to justify a criminal act.

History and Etymology for duress

Anglo-French duresce, literally, hardness, harshness, from Old French, from Latin duritia, from durus hard

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More from Merriam-Webster on duress

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with duress

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for duress

Spanish Central: Translation of duress

Nglish: Translation of duress for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of duress for Arabic Speakers

Comments on duress

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a knickknack or trinket

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