hos·​tage ˈhä-stij How to pronounce hostage (audio)
: a person held by one party in a conflict as a pledge pending the fulfillment of an agreement
: a person taken by force to secure the taker's demands
: 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.
Recent Examples on the Web First, the United States should abandon its refusal (at least as of this writing) to call for a cease-fire and seek an end to the war in Gaza and the return of Israeli hostages as quickly as possible. Marc Lynch, Foreign Affairs, 20 Feb. 2024 Militants still hold about 130 hostages, a fourth of them believed to be dead. Democrat-Gazette Staff From Wire Reports,, 19 Feb. 2024 The hospital pharmacy contained boxes of medicines bearing the names of Israeli hostages, indicating that the hostages never received the critical aid. Forbes International, Forbes, 19 Feb. 2024 Israeli authorities believe that more than 100 hostages remain in Gaza. Heidi Levine, Washington Post, 18 Feb. 2024 The war, incited by an Oct. 7 Hamas attack that killed 1,200 and took hundreds of hostages, has escalated into a wider campaign in Gaza that has killed 28,000 people, including 12,000 children, and drawn criticism from the United Nations’ International Court of Justice, among others. Sunny Nagpaul, Fortune, 18 Feb. 2024 In October, Hamas attacked Israel, killing more than 1,400 people and taking hundreds of hostages, according to Israeli authorities. Ryan MacAsero, The Mercury News, 16 Feb. 2024 The surprise Hamas attacks left about 1,200 dead and saw more than 250 others taken hostage. Jeremy Diamond, CNN, 16 Feb. 2024 Men, women and children murdered in their homes, women raped, and now over 100 still held hostage. Eleanor Dearman, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, 15 Feb. 2024 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'hostage.' 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 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 1

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.

First Known Use

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

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

Dictionary Entries Near hostage

Cite this Entry

“Hostage.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 5 Mar. 2024.

Kids Definition


hos·​tage ˈhäs-tij How to pronounce hostage (audio)
: a person held captive as a pledge that promises will be kept or terms met by another

More from Merriam-Webster on hostage

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