du·​ress | \ du̇-ˈres How to pronounce duress (audio) also dyu̇- \

Definition of duress

1 law : forcible restraint or restriction while the German army was still held in duress by the Versailles treaty— S. L. A. Marshall
2 law : compulsion (see compulsion sense 1a) by threat gave the statement under duress specifically : unlawful constraint held under duress

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 the preposition 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 That's going to cause untold disruption to businesses trying to recover after 16 months of lockdown duress. Pan Pylas, Star Tribune, 22 July 2021 Some of the best caregivers are the ones who maintain enough detachment to keep their heads, and keep listening through what would be, for others, an exhausting level of duress. Washington Post, 28 June 2021 Sufficed to say, after the February freeze, Texas residents have little if any good feeling left for the governing body ostensibly responsible for ensuring the safety and reliability of the state's power grid in times of duress. Dan Carson, Chron, 14 June 2021 Expect investors to closely monitor the bond market for signs of duress in the coming months — especially as price hikes keep feeding through. Julia Horowitz, CNN, 21 Apr. 2021 At a moment of extreme duress late in the book, her visual-processing system starts to falter. Helen Shaw, Vulture, 6 Mar. 2021 But as expertly crafted as the film is in design, tech and other respects, its central figure remains a bit more of a cipher than is ideal for what is, after all, primarily a portrait of an individual’s implosion under duress. Dennis Harvey, Variety, 21 Dec. 2021 All five men alleged that they had been forced to sign declarations under duress. Natalie Gallón, CNN, 18 Dec. 2021 The affidavit signed by the witness under duress was delivered to Crittenden’s attorney, and a trial was scheduled, according to officials. Rich Barak, ajc, 15 Dec. 2021

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

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Last Updated

13 Jan 2022

Cite this Entry

“Duress.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/duress. Accessed 17 Jan. 2022.

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More Definitions for duress



English Language Learners Definition of duress

: force or threats meant to make someone do something


du·​ress | \ du̇-ˈres, dyu̇- How to pronounce duress (audio) \

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

More from Merriam-Webster on duress

Nglish: Translation of duress for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of duress for Arabic Speakers


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