loi·​ter ˈlȯi-tər How to pronounce loiter (audio)
loitered; loitering; loiters

intransitive verb

: to delay an activity with idle stops and pauses : dawdle
asked him not to loiter on the way home
: to remain in an area for no obvious reason
teenagers loitering in the parking lot
: to lag behind
a crowd of people, who loitered to hear the bloodcurdling threats the prisoner shoutedWilla Cather
loiter noun
loiterer noun
Choose the Right Synonym for loiter

delay, procrastinate, lag, loiter, dawdle, dally mean to move or act slowly so as to fall behind.

delay usually implies a putting off of something (such as a beginning or departure).

we cannot delay any longer

procrastinate implies blameworthy delay especially through laziness or apathy.

procrastinates about making decisions

lag implies failure to maintain a speed set by others.

lagging behind in technology

loiter and dawdle imply delay while in progress, especially in walking, but dawdle more clearly suggests an aimless wasting of time.

loitered at several store windows
children dawdling on their way home from school

dally suggests delay through trifling or vacillation when promptness is necessary.

stop dallying and get to work

Example Sentences

Loitering is prohibited outside the theaters. don't loiter in this neighborhood after dark
Recent Examples on the Web These aircraft are slow, fly at low altitude, and can loiter for hours before locking onto a target and striking. Karina Zaiets, USA Today, 27 Oct. 2022 At baseball teams’ hotels, fans loiter around out front, waiting to ask players for the autographs. Susan Slusser, San Francisco Chronicle, 27 Sep. 2022 The creative joy behind DeepTom has proved contagious, resonating with the next generation of teenagers who loiter at the global algorithm malls. Miles Fisher, The Hollywood Reporter, 21 July 2022 Older people and the occasional teenager or young parent from the neighborhood knock on the door and loiter out front, peering through her window to try to catch a glimpse of what’s inside. Lillian Perlmutter, The Christian Science Monitor, 6 June 2022 And thirdly, there is that extended loitering time, vastly longer than needed for most battlefield use — almost all similar munitions loiter for less than an hour. David Hambling, Forbes, 22 Apr. 2022 Don’t loiter here or come back later, Or the god’s staff and chaplet won’t protect you. Sarah Ruden, National Review, 31 Mar. 2022 This allows Bayraktar to loiter more than three miles above the surface of Earth, day or night, and give drone operators hundreds of miles away the ability to look down onto the battlefield in real time. Kyle Mizokami, Popular Mechanics, 11 Mar. 2022 Both Hopkins and Keene say young children will be walking farther, sometimes crossing busy streets like North Avenue or Pennsylvania Avenue by themselves, and past corners where people loiter and deal drugs. Liz Bowie, baltimoresun.com, 10 Jan. 2022 See More

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

Word History


Middle English

First Known Use

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of loiter was in the 14th century

Dictionary Entries Near loiter

Cite this Entry

“Loiter.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/loiter. Accessed 31 Jan. 2023.

Kids Definition


loi·​ter ˈlȯit-ər How to pronounce loiter (audio)
: to interrupt or delay an errand or a journey with pointless stops
: to remain in an area for no good reason
: to lag behind
loiterer noun

Legal Definition


intransitive verb
loi·​ter ˈlȯi-tər How to pronounce loiter (audio)
: to remain in or hang around an area for no obvious purpose
specifically : to linger for the purpose of committing a crime
a statute forbidding any person from loitering on school grounds

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