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.

Examples of duress in a Sentence

He gave the information under duress. complied with the order only under duress
Recent Examples on the Web There is a rough frame structure in which the captain relates the story of his time in America to his superiors, clearly under some kind of imprisonment and duress. Kelly Lawler, USA TODAY, 14 Apr. 2024 But Panama used its man advantage to answer quickly and place the United States under duress before going ahead on José Fajardo’s 83rd-minute goal. Steven Goff, Washington Post, 28 June 2024 So Pinkley, still in his grunt attire, plays along under duress and pretends to inspect the troops. David Fear, Rolling Stone, 21 June 2024 But for now, the problem is that identifying fake news is a manual process prone to human error and the duress of news-cycle urgency. Martin J. O'Malley and Peter L. Levin, Foreign Affairs, 5 Jan. 2017 See all Example Sentences for duress 

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 25 Jul. 2024.

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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