du·​ress du̇-ˈres How to pronounce duress (audio)
 also  dyu̇-
law : forcible restraint or restriction
while the German army was still held in duress by the Versailles treatyS. L. A. Marshall
law : 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 most often paired with the word under to refer to force or threats meant to make someone do something. For example, someone forced to sign a document signs it “under duress,” and a person held “under duress” is not free to leave but is being constrained, usually unlawfully. (Do not confuse being “under duress” with being “under stress,” which is a much more common occurrence.) Duress is ultimately from Latin durus, meaning "hard," source too of durable and endure.

Example Sentences

He gave the information under duress. complied with the order only under duress
Recent Examples on the Web The idea of suing to void sales under duress only came about in the last 20 years, Brand said. Daniel Wu, Washington Post, 25 Jan. 2023 According to Christie’s, the German businessman purchased Jewish businesses sold under duress during the Nazi era. Oscar Holland, CNN, 15 May 2023 Several performed well under duress, withstanding impacts and water dunks and keeping the food contained. Madison Yauger, Peoplemag, 14 May 2023 Things quieted down quickly enough when, to begin the match, Gauff failed to hold serve, missing a forehand, under no duress, on break point. Gerald Marzorati, The New Yorker, 15 Mar. 2023 Like many private universities of its size and stature, Valparaiso has descended into financial duress. David Masciotra, The New Republic, 15 Mar. 2023 Under the same duress, my twin brother makes the same error immediately after me. Charlie Hobbs, Condé Nast Traveler, 25 Oct. 2022 The British government maintains the treaty was legal, even if it was signed by a child under duress. Gillian Brockell, Washington Post, 5 May 2023 The tip is fiberglass-finished for durability where rods are most likely to break under duress. Justin Park, Popular Mechanics, 2 May 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'duress.' 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 duresse, from Anglo-French duresce hardness, severity, from Latin duritia, from durus — see during

First Known Use

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

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


Dictionary Entries Near duress

Cite this Entry

“Duress.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/duress. Accessed 10 Jun. 2023.

Kids Definition


du·​ress d(y)u̇-ˈres How to pronounce duress (audio)
: the use of force or threats

Legal Definition


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


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

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