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

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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 Smith & Wesson signed under duress, but gun-rights groups reacted quickly, drafting what would become the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA). Kevin D. Williamson, National Review, "The Lawfare Campaign against Gunmakers," 12 Sep. 2019 Even under duress, Burrow generally was able to sling a pass before being dragged down. Nick Moyle, ExpressNews.com, "Despite struggles, Texas DC Todd Orlando believes breakthrough is coming," 12 Sep. 2019 Cousins was under duress more than most quarterbacks behind a faulty offensive line and that was the focus of the Vikings’ offseason. Brad Biggs, chicagotribune.com, "A look at how the Bears’ NFC North rivals are shaping up for 2019," 4 Sep. 2019 While the victory didn’t lead to an AFC West title — which oddsmakers favor the Chiefs to retain, for their fourth crown in a row — performing well under duress can breed confidence and trust. San Diego Union-Tribune, "Column: Philip Rivers, a year after finally beating Chiefs, resumes Super Bowl bid," 4 Sep. 2019 They were arrested almost two weeks after the bodies were found and originally confessed, only to later recant, saying their admissions of guilt were made under duress. Helen Regan And Angie Puranasamriddhi, CNN, "Thailand's Supreme Court upholds death penalty for men convicted of murdering British backpackers," 29 Aug. 2019 The breakup hypothetical covers behavior under duress, involves a realistic situation, and adds the twist of your being upset with each other, not some safe third party. Carolyn Hax, al, "Carolyn Hax: How can you know if you’re old enough to choose a life partner?," 18 Aug. 2019 In over his head, under duress, and tempted by his old weaknesses, Don soon discovers that the house has its own dark, sordid history and won’t be so easy to renovate after all. Clark Collis, EW.com, "Girl on the Third Floor," 28 Aug. 2019 With De La Salle still only down a touchdown and back in Aquinas territory, quarterback Dorian Hale, who was under duress all night, threw a pass in the flat to Lu Magia Hearns on fourth down. Darren Sabedra, The Mercury News, "Football: De La Salle stumbles, loses to St. Thomas Aquinas," 23 Aug. 2019

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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Statistics for duress

Last Updated

31 Oct 2019

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


How to pronounce duress (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of duress

formal : 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

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More from Merriam-Webster on duress

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for duress

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with duress

Spanish Central: Translation of duress

Nglish: Translation of duress for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of duress for Arabic Speakers

Comments on duress

What made you want to look up duress? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


to engage in dissolute behavior

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