hos·​tage | \ ˈhä-stij How to pronounce hostage (audio) \

Definition of hostage

1a : a person held by one party in a conflict as a pledge pending the fulfillment of an agreement
b : a person taken by force to secure the taker's demands
2 : one that is involuntarily controlled by an outside influence

Examples of hostage in a Sentence

The terrorists demanded a plane and a pilot in exchange for the hostages. The hostage crisis is now entering its second week. The passengers were taken hostage. They were held hostage for several days.
See More

Recent Examples on the Web

China dominates the global market for these materials and has been threatening to take them hostage in the deepening trade conflict. David J. Lynch, Anchorage Daily News, "China hints it will choke off U.S. ‘rare earths’ access. But it’s not that easy.," 11 June 2019 The men denied involvement in the murders and physical abuse of hostages, saying they had been transferred to another unit before the violence began. Nick Paton Walsh, CNN, "One of the ISIS 'Beatles' says he's sorry. Will confessions save these fighters from death row?," 10 June 2019 In August 2000, mere months after Caldwell and Rodden started dating, the pair were on a climbing trip with two other friends when the group was taken hostage. Andrew Bisharat, National Geographic, "How this elite climber keeps finding new heights to explore," 27 Mar. 2019 Things took a turn when Dr. Spencer Reid (Matthew Gray Gubler) and J.J. Jareau (A.J. Cook) were taken hostage by the suspect, and J.J. was forced to reveal her deepest, darkest secret. Megan Stein, Country Living, "‘Criminal Minds’ Dropped a Major Bombshell During the Finale and People Are Furious," 7 Feb. 2019 And in May, Trump secured the release of three American hostages — Tony Kim, Kim Hak-song, and Kim Dong-chul — from North Korea. Alex Ward, Vox, "Turkey releases US Pastor Andrew Brunson in a big win for Trump," 12 Oct. 2018 The video begins with an apparent hostage-situation threat given to a 911 operator. Sam Machkovech, Ars Technica, "Police to Seattle’s techies, streamers: Sign up for our anti-swatting service [Updated]," 1 Oct. 2018 The intense first installment had explosions, hostage situations, and a plot twist that had everyone reeling and ready for next week’s episode. Megan Stein, Country Living, "'NCIS' Returns for Its First Episode Since Pauley Perrette's Exit and Fans Have a Lot of Feelings," 26 Sep. 2018 Newly released body camera video shows a intense scene unfold as Chicago police officers responded to a hostage situation at a Near West Side apartment building on April 11, 2018. Jeremy Gorner,, "Police video released of hostage situation on Near West Side from April," 11 June 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'hostage.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

See More

First Known Use of hostage

13th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

History and Etymology for hostage

Middle English hostage, ostage, borrowed from Anglo-French, "lodging, residence, custody of a person held as security against fulfillment of an agreement, the person so held," from hoste "guest, host" + -age -age — more at host entry 3

Note: The peculiar sense shift apparently arose from the Old French use of hostage in verbal phrases such as prendre en hostage "to take in residence, lodge" in reference to the lodging of a person held as surety; the import of hostage was then transferred to the status of such a person, and finally to the actual person.

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about hostage

Dictionary Entries near hostage





hostage crisis



Statistics for hostage

Last Updated

16 Jun 2019

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for hostage

The first known use of hostage was in the 13th century

See more words from the same century

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for hostage



English Language Learners Definition of hostage

: a person who is captured by someone who demands that certain things be done before the captured person is freed


hos·​tage | \ ˈhä-stij How to pronounce hostage (audio) \

Kids Definition of hostage

: a person who is captured by someone who demands that certain things be done before the captured person is freed

Keep scrolling for more

More from Merriam-Webster on hostage

Spanish Central: Translation of hostage

Nglish: Translation of hostage for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of hostage for Arabic Speakers

Comments on hostage

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


a device or gadget

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Words for Summer: A Quiz

  • a closeup of a sunflower
  • Which of the following words means “of or relating to summer”?
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?


Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!