verb (1)
\ ˈfret How to pronounce fret (audio) \
fretted; fretting

Definition of fret

 (Entry 1 of 6)

transitive verb

1a : to eat or gnaw into : corrode also : fray The acid fretted the metal.
b : rub, chafe The harness strap was fretting the horse.
c : to make by wearing away a substance the stream fretted a channel
2 : to cause to suffer emotional strain : vex don't you fret yourself about me— J. C. Powys
3 : to pass (time) in fretting a poor player who struts and frets his hour upon the stage— William Shakespeare
4 : agitate, ripple fret the surface of the lake

intransitive verb

1a : to eat into something
b : to affect something as if by gnawing or biting : grate the … urgent voice fretted at his nerves— Graham Greene
2a : wear, corrode Marble frets away due to the rain.
b : chafe His back where the harness rubbed began to fret.
3a : to become vexed or worried fretting over the high cost of feeding their families— Vance Packard
b of running water : to become agitated a brook fretting over rocks


noun (1)

Definition of fret (Entry 2 of 6)

1a : the action of wearing away : erosion
b : a worn or eroded spot
2 : an agitation of mind : irritation


verb (2)
fretted; fretting

Definition of fret (Entry 3 of 6)

transitive verb

1a : to decorate with interlaced designs
b : to form a pattern upon
2 : to enrich with embossed or pierced carved patterns


noun (2)

Definition of fret (Entry 4 of 6)

1 : an ornamental network especially : a medieval metallic or jeweled net for a woman's headdress
2 : an ornament or ornamental work often in relief consisting of small straight bars intersecting one another in right or oblique angles


noun (3)

Definition of fret (Entry 5 of 6)

: one of a series of ridges fixed across the fingerboard of a stringed musical instrument (such as a guitar)


verb (3)
fretted; fretting

Definition of fret (Entry 6 of 6)

transitive verb

: to press (the strings of a stringed instrument) against the frets

Illustration of fret

Illustration of fret

Noun (2)

fret 2

In the meaning defined above

Other Words from fret

Noun (3)

fretless adjective
fretted adjective

Synonyms for fret

Synonyms: Verb (1)

Synonyms: Noun (1)

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Fret and Eating

The meat-and-potatoes meaning of fret is "to eat." The verb is used literally, as in "Moths fretted the clothing," but more often figuratively to describe actions that corrode or wear away. A river "frets away" at its banks, or something might be said to be "fretted out" with time or age. Fret also applies to emotional experiences so that something that "eats away at someone" is "fretting the heart or mind."

First Known Use of fret

Verb (1)

12th century, in the meaning defined at transitive sense 1a

Noun (1)

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

Verb (2)

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

Noun (2)

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Noun (3)

circa 1500, in the meaning defined above

Verb (3)

1602, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for fret

Verb (1) and Noun (1)

Middle English, to devour, fret, from Old English fretan to devour; akin to Old High German frezzan to devour, ezzan to eat — more at eat

Verb (2)

Middle English, back-formation from fret, fretted adorned, interwoven, from Anglo-French fretté, past participle of fretter to tie, probably from Vulgar Latin *firmitare, from Latin firmus firm

Noun (3)

perhaps from Middle French frete ferrule, from freter

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Time Traveler for fret

Time Traveler

The first known use of fret was in the 12th century

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Dictionary Entries Near fret

Fresson process



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Cite this Entry

“Fret.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 21 May. 2022.

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More Definitions for fret


\ ˈfret How to pronounce fret (audio) \
fretted; fretting

Kids Definition of fret

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: worry entry 1 sense 1 … it was a thing which could not be helped, so I seldom fretted about it …— Mark Twain, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court



Kids Definition of fret (Entry 2 of 2)

: an irritated or worried state

More from Merriam-Webster on fret

Nglish: Translation of fret for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of fret for Arabic Speakers Encyclopedia article about fret


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