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fet·​ter ˈfe-tər How to pronounce fetter (audio)
: a chain or shackle for the feet
: something that confines : restraint


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fettered; fettering; fetters

transitive verb

: to put fetters on : shackle
: to restrain from motion, action, or progress

Did you know?

While now used as a more general term for something that confines or restrains, fetter was originally applied specifically to a chain or shackle for the feet. Not surprisingly, the word's Old English ancestor, feter, is etymologically shackled to fōt, the Old English ancestor of foot. Fetter is also used as a verb with meanings that correspond to the noun's meanings: a prisoner can be fettered literally, and a person can feel fettered by obligations or responsibilities.

Choose the Right Synonym for fetter

hamper, trammel, clog, fetter, shackle, manacle mean to hinder or impede in moving, progressing, or acting.

hamper may imply the effect of any impeding or restraining influence.

hampered the investigation by refusing to cooperate

trammel suggests entangling by or confining within a net.

rules that trammel the artist's creativity

clog usually implies a slowing by something extraneous or encumbering.

a court system clogged by frivolous suits

fetter suggests a restraining so severe that freedom to move or progress is almost lost.

a nation fettered by an antiquated class system

shackle and manacle are stronger than fetter and suggest total loss of freedom.

a mind shackled by stubborn prejudice
a people manacled by tyranny

Examples of fetter in a Sentence

Noun a time-honored tradition is fine as long as it doesn't become a fetter that prevents us from trying something new claims that government regulations are unnecessary fetters that keep him from achieving his business goals Verb He found himself fettered by responsibilities. museum artifacts that serve as somber reminders of the days when slaves were fettered with irons
Recent Examples on the Web
One man even contrived somehow to get across while still in iron fetters. Adam Goodheart, Smithsonian Magazine, 25 Sep. 2023 Its stage is where King Kong broke his fetters in the 1933 movie. Patt Morrison, Los Angeles Times, 8 Mar. 2023 And then there’s the New Deal, another famous attempt to slap fetters on the rough beast of capitalism. Jonah Goldberg, National Review, 22 Nov. 2019 This early recording is unique—brisk and pugnacious, a stormy, bitter Schubert raging against his earthly fetters and then distilling his passions, in the last movement, into headlong lunges, dazzling whirls, and delicate pirouettes. Richard Brody, The New Yorker, 12 Mar. 2020 Like the shrimp and grits, the fetter papa burger ($15) is appropriately decadent. Lindsey McClave, The Courier-Journal, 28 Aug. 2019 The smartest of Logan's four children spent most of Succession's first season rejecting the fetters of the Roy name to varying degrees of success. Julie Kosin, Harper's BAZAAR, 12 Aug. 2019 Rousseau regarded them as fetters on the people’s freedoms. The Economist, 1 Aug. 2019 India has a populist leader happy to interfere with the central bank, China has ditched term limits to make its Communist leadership even more dictatorial than usual and the Philippine president revels in rejecting fetters on extrajudicial killing. James MacKintosh, WSJ, 14 Aug. 2018
Ruskin felt insulted and legally fettered by the verdict. Adrian Dannatt, New York Times, 6 Dec. 2023 Certain wandered between rows of mannequins fettered with leg irons, claustrophobic dungeon cells and a towering guillotine. Jeremy Redmon, Smithsonian Magazine, 24 Oct. 2023 After the beating, he was fettered in iron chains around his ankles, which would rub his skin raw. Darcel Rockett, Chicago Tribune, 12 Sep. 2023 Teddy Roosevelt broke up the trusts, regulated the food supply, created the National Park System, and fettered the railroads. Jonah Goldberg, National Review, 22 Nov. 2019 Botany was also often fettered to expertise in gardening, another activity that fell within the realm of the feminine. Amandas Ong, The Atlantic, 17 Apr. 2018 In many developing countries, girls face two starkly divergent paths: one fettered by gender inequality and cut short by early childbearing and the other offering personal fulfillment and economic improvement that benefit families and nations. Howard Lafranchi, The Christian Science Monitor, 15 Apr. 2018 While your job is to enforce the consistency that stylebooks aim for, you must not be fettered by it. John E. McIntyre, baltimoresun.com, 25 Aug. 2017

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'fetter.' 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 feter, from Old English; akin to Old English fōt foot

First Known Use


before the 12th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1


before the 12th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of fetter was before the 12th century


Dictionary Entries Near fetter

Cite this Entry

“Fetter.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/fetter. Accessed 18 May. 2024.

Kids Definition


: a chain for the feet
: something that restricts : restraint
fetter verb

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