ratch·​et | \ˈra-chət \
variants: or less commonly

Definition of ratchet 

(Entry 1 of 2)

1 : a mechanism that consists of a bar or wheel having inclined teeth into which a pawl drops so that motion can be imparted to the wheel or bar, governed, or prevented and that is used in a hand tool (such as a wrench or screwdriver) to allow effective motion in one direction only

2 : a pawl or detent for holding or propelling a toothed wheel


variants: or less commonly rachet
ratcheted also racheted; ratcheting also racheting; ratchets also rachets

Definition of ratchet (Entry 2 of 2)

transitive verb

: to cause to move by steps or degrees usually used with up or down tried to ratchet down the debt

intransitive verb

: to proceed by steps or degrees

Examples of ratchet in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

Regulation usually functions like a ratchet, so regulators ought to take that into account when assessing its likely costs. WSJ, "Social Engineering Via Cost-Benefit Fiddles," 7 Oct. 2018 The interview, published during a gala dinner May hosted for Trump at Blenheim Palace, appeared to further ratchet up tensions in a relationship that’s been fraught since the president assumed office. Fortune, "Trump Apologizes to May and Vows U.K. Trade Deal After Brexit," 13 July 2018 Another loss would equal the team's longest slide since 2007 and likely ratchet up the pressure on Schmid, who has won just five of 24 games since replacing Curt Onalfo as coach last summer. Kevin Baxter, latimes.com, "Reeling Galaxy need to stop slide in Montreal," 20 May 2018 That jams the transmission’s parking pawl against its ratchet mechanism. Ray Magliozzi, sandiegouniontribune.com, "Weighing the pros and cons of using the parking brake," 29 June 2018 As with most unfounded conspiracy theories spewing from this ratchet administration, Trump pushed this nonsense on Twitter, claiming that Mueller’s team is made up of Democrats and one corrupt Republican (Mueller), Yahoo! Stephen A. Crockett Jr., The Root, "Trump’s Latest Conspiracy Theory Might Be His Craziest Yet," 29 May 2018 The ratchet itself comes with Wera's signature stroke of design genius: the Kraftform handle, with a bump in the middle that gives its user an unusual degree of comfort in holding the tool. David Grossman, Popular Mechanics, "Get Some Serious Work Done With These Discounted Wera Tools," 20 Nov. 2017 Expect to see his side ratchet up the offensive rhetoric, which will be matched quickly by President Trump. James Stavridis, Time, "I Served with the Military Leaders Shaping America’s North Korea Plan. Here’s What They’ll Do Next," 24 May 2018 The emissions targets reached in the first Paris accord were not ambitious enough, and were meant to set the table for continuous ratchets. Jonathan Chait, Daily Intelligencer, "Trump Wishes He Could Destroy Obama’s Legacy. He Hasn’t. And Won’t.," 20 May 2018

Recent Examples on the Web: Verb

Venezuelan opposition leaders have ratcheted up an international campaign to increase financial pressure on the Maduro government. Kejal Vyas, WSJ, "Development Bank Considers Controversial Venezuelan Loan," 7 Dec. 2018 And that complexity has only ratcheted up over the years with new characters, features, and modes. Andrew Webster, The Verge, "Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is the complete package," 6 Dec. 2018 Meanwhile, Trump has ratcheted up his attacks on Canada. Jen Kirby, Vox, "The US and Canada haven’t budged on NAFTA," 7 Sep. 2018 His remarks on Friday extolling Kim's gun-barrel grip on power ratcheted up similar laudatory comments since Tuesday's summit. Eli Stokols, latimes.com, "Trump voices admiration and envy of Kim Jong Un, underscoring his respect for autocrats," 15 June 2018 Given a couple more generations of refinement, the Surface design team should have ironed out any lingering fit and comfort issues while the audio engineers can be expected to ratchet up the quality of the internals. Vlad Savov, The Verge, "Microsoft Surface Headphones review: all the style without the polish," 15 Nov. 2018 Meanwhile, competition in the sector is ratcheting up. Elizabeth Winkler, WSJ, "Path to Profits Still Eludes Wayfair," 1 Nov. 2018 The Trump administration’s idea of North Korean diplomacy has been to ratchet up pressure on Kim with sanctions and a shadow campaign within the CIA to enforce it, especially on the high seas. Joe Pappalardo, Popular Mechanics, "The U.S. Doesn’t Want a No-Fly Zone Over the Korean DMZ. Here’s Why.," 18 Oct. 2018 Trump, meanwhile, is only ratcheting up his threats to slap levies on imports from around the globe. Tory Newmyer, Washington Post, "The Finance 202: Sen. Flake’s pledge to block Trump judges could force showdown on trade," 25 June 2018

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

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First Known Use of ratchet


1654, in the meaning defined at sense 1


1972, in the meaning defined at transitive sense

History and Etymology for ratchet


alteration of earlier rochet, from French, alteration of Middle French rocquet ratchet, bobbin, of Germanic origin; akin to Old High German rocko distaff — more at rock

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Statistics for ratchet

Last Updated

28 Nov 2018

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The first known use of ratchet was in 1654

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More Definitions for ratchet



English Language Learners Definition of ratchet

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: a device made up of a wheel or bar with many teeth along its edge in between which a piece fits so that the wheel or bar can move only in one direction



English Language Learners Definition of ratchet (Entry 2 of 2)

: to increase or decrease (something) especially by a series of small steps or amounts

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More from Merriam-Webster on ratchet

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with ratchet

Spanish Central: Translation of ratchet

Nglish: Translation of ratchet for Spanish Speakers

Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about ratchet

Comments on ratchet

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


to make faulty or ineffective

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