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ran·​som ˈran(t)-səm How to pronounce ransom (audio)
: a consideration paid or demanded for the release of someone or something from captivity
: the act of ransoming


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ransomed; ransoming; ransoms

transitive verb

: to deliver especially from sin or its penalty
: to free from captivity or punishment by paying a price
ransomer noun
Choose the Right Synonym for ransom

rescue, deliver, redeem, ransom, reclaim, save mean to set free from confinement or danger.

rescue implies freeing from imminent danger by prompt or vigorous action.

rescued the crew of a sinking ship

deliver implies release usually of a person from confinement, temptation, slavery, or suffering.

delivered his people from bondage

redeem implies releasing from bondage or penalties by giving what is demanded or necessary.

job training designed to redeem school dropouts from chronic unemployment

ransom specifically applies to buying out of captivity.

tried to ransom the kidnap victim

reclaim suggests a bringing back to a former state or condition of someone or something abandoned or debased.

reclaimed long-abandoned farms

save may replace any of the foregoing terms; it may further imply a preserving or maintaining for usefulness or continued existence.

an operation that saved my life

Example Sentences

Noun The kidnappers demanded a ransom of one million dollars. The family is willing to pay ransom for his release. The ransom note explained the terms under which she would be released. Verb He was held captive for a week before he was ransomed and returned to his family. the prince emptied the treasury to ransom his son from the kidnappers
Recent Examples on the Web
No ransom was paid and no concessions were made to Woodke's captors, Kirby said. Michael Collins, USA TODAY, 20 Mar. 2023 The official said no ransom was paid and no concession was made to captors. Eric Tucker, Anchorage Daily News, 20 Mar. 2023 In 1932, The Associated Press reported on an attempt to blackmail the Raisa and her husband with the threat their child would be harmed unless a ransom was paid, according to her biography. Ron Grossman, Chicago Tribune, 19 Mar. 2023 Paying the ransom also does not guarantee that a victim’s files will be recovered. Luke Barr, ABC News, 13 Mar. 2023 After the district refused to pay ransom to the hacking gang, which has specialized in targeting educational institutions, the hackers posted about 500 gigabytes of data on the dark web. Howard Blumestaff Writer, Los Angeles Times, 22 Feb. 2023 The district paid the ransom, but the investigation into what information the hackers accessed is still ongoing. Kimberly Dishongh, Arkansas Online, 5 Feb. 2023 A few days before funds were set to run out, the administration agreed to pay the ransom. Julian Zelizer, CNN, 19 Jan. 2023 Since the seventies, the U.S. has officially refused to pay ransom. Robin Wright, The New Yorker, 9 Dec. 2022
And specific strains of malware bring different risk factors to ransom negotiations. Kevin Purdy, Ars Technica, 23 Jan. 2023 By holding all those things to ransom behind crypto tollbooths, the holders hoped to convert their tokens to real money. WIRED, 23 Jan. 2023 The concept is similar to that of ransomware attacks and digital extortion in which law enforcement encourages victims not to pay hackers’ ransom demands so they will be disincentivized to keep trying. Lily Hay Newman, WIRED, 2 Jan. 2023 The locals intend to ransom Santa to the Americans, but after children start disappearing and elves start attacking, the locals realize that subduing Father Christmas will take more force and creativity than expected. Ilana Gordon, EW.com, 23 Dec. 2022 Similar to ransom payments, the deals may make business sense, allowing a company to get back to normal after a cyberattack, security experts say. David Uberti, WSJ, 25 July 2022 Forcing a car to lock or disabling power steering could allow an attacker to ransom a vehicle by pressuring the owner to restore functionality. Michael Mehlberg, Forbes, 6 June 2022 There are four broad categories of potential losses due to cybersecurity breaches: business and operational disruption costs due to recovery activities, ransom demands, legal liabilities and lawsuits. Brian Greenberg, Forbes, 16 May 2022 Yet huge corporations are successfully held to ransom every day by cyber crooks demanding millions for the safe return of data. Al Ramich, Forbes, 1 July 2022 See More

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

Word History



Middle English ransoun, from Anglo-French rançun, from Latin redemption-, redemptio — more at redemption

First Known Use


13th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1


14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

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

Dictionary Entries Near ransom

Cite this Entry

“Ransom.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/ransom. Accessed 28 Mar. 2023.

Kids Definition


1 of 2 noun
ran·​som ˈran(t)-səm How to pronounce ransom (audio)
: something paid or demanded for the freedom of a captured person
: the act of ransoming


2 of 2 verb
: to free from captivity or punishment by paying a price
ransomer noun

Legal Definition


1 of 2 noun
: a consideration paid or demanded for the release of someone or something from captivity see also kidnapping


2 of 2 transitive verb
: to free from captivity by paying a price

Biographical Definition


biographical name

Ran·​som ˈran(t)-səm How to pronounce Ransom (audio)
John Crowe 1888–1974 American educator and poet

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