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

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 The process now resembles a one-way ratchet in which regulations expand in Democratic administrations and prove impossible to reverse in Republican ones. F.h. Buckley, WSJ, "The ‘Swamp’ Needs a Justinian," 19 Apr. 2018

Recent Examples on the Web: Verb

In June before the deal was reached, the union announced its vote to authorize a strike if necessary, a negotiating tactic to ratchet up pressure during negotiations. Kelly Yamanouchi, ajc, "Weekend deliveries, new technology addressed in UPS-Teamsters deal," 11 July 2018 Ratcliff and Eric Libby, a theoretical biologist at Umeå University in Sweden, proposed 4 years ago that a ratcheting effect took over, driving an inexorable increase in complexity. Elizabeth Pennisi, Science | AAAS, "The momentous transition to multicellular life may not have been so hard after all," 28 June 2018 House Bill 233, which was rewritten by the Senate, ratchets down the deduction, starting in 2021, to 50 percent for donations between $100,000 and $300,000, instead of 100 percent. Nathaniel Herz, Anchorage Daily News, "Juneau wrap-up, part 4: Lawmakers tighten business tax credit for donations to schools," 30 May 2018 Accenture’s move into media-buying further ratchets up the pressure on one of the most lucrative areas of the advertising-agency business. Lara O’reilly, WSJ, "Accenture Interactive Opens Digital Ad-Buying Division, Further Encroaching on Agencies’ Turf," 23 May 2018 The action ratchets up considerably in the final 45 minutes, when the monsters that Krasinski has wisely framed in brief, allusive blurs of movement come into more frightening focus. Ann Hornaday, kansascity, "Inventive ‘A Quiet Place’ conjures up scares without screams | The Kansas City Star," 5 Apr. 2018 The ad ratchets up the attacks in what has been considered one of the state's most competitive congressional primaries. Jim Morrill, charlotteobserver, "GOP challenger urges voters to 'drain the swamp' in acrimonious NC congressional race | Charlotte Observer," 27 Mar. 2018 Alternating between busy and lyrical stretches in the opening, the second movement ratchets up the intensity to a painful climax. Peter Dobrin, Philly.com, "Lahav Shani, 29, leads Philadelphia Orchestra in notable debut," 23 Mar. 2018 This issue ratchets up during a brief montage in which elves shop, wear fancy clothes, and ride in luxury cars around Beverly Hills (with orc chauffeurs). Sam Machkovech, Ars Technica, "Guess we should talk about Bright, now that it’s a freaking franchise," 6 Jan. 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

22 Aug 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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