set·back | \ˈset-ˌbak \

Definition of setback 

(Entry 1 of 2)

1 : a checking of progress

4 : a placing of a face of a building on a line some distance to the rear of the building line or of the wall below also : the area produced by a setback

5 : automatic scheduled adjustment to a lower temperature setting of a thermostat

6 : the distance of a structure or other feature (such as a well or septic system) from the property line or other feature

set back


Definition of set back (Entry 2 of 2)

transitive verb

1 : to slow the progress of : hinder, delay

2 : cost a new suit will set you back $200

Keep scrolling for more

Synonyms for setback

Synonyms: Noun

knock, lapse, reversal, reverse

Visit the Thesaurus for More 

Examples of setback in a Sentence


Despite some early setbacks, they eventually became a successful company. the colonists persevered despite suffering setbacks that would have discouraged lesser souls

Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

In another major setback for conservation, the last remaining male northern white rhino on the planet died in March in Kenya, leaving conservationists struggling to save that sub-species using in vitro fertilization. Khaled Kazziha,, "7 endangered rhinos dead in Kenya relocation bid," 13 July 2018 Every twist and turn during offseason workouts could lead to an injury and a possible setback for a Florida program looking to improve on a 21-13 record, a third-place finish in the Southeastern Conference and a second-round NCAA Tournament exit. Matt Murschel,, "Gators try to remain healthy while pushing to improve this offseason," 1 July 2018 Brazil had an early setback when left back Marcelo was substituted in the 10th minute, limping off the field. Frank Griffiths, Houston Chronicle, "Brazil advances, faces Mexico next in round of 16 at World Cup," 28 June 2018 The Trump administration’s plan to deploy some of the most restrictive investment limits in its economic arsenal against China marks a setback for Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s effort to take a less confrontational approach toward Beijing. Saleha Mohsin,, "Mnuchin Suffers Setback in U.S. Plan to Limit China Investments," 25 June 2018 NextEra has had setbacks trying to expand into utilities, which have rates of return set by regulators and are generally safer than investing in competitive power generation. Russell Gold, WSJ, "How a Florida Utility Became the Global King of Green Power," 18 June 2018 When LaVar Ball pulled his sons, LiAngelo and LaMelo, out of Lithuania before Vytautas’ LKL season ended, the experience was regarded as a setback for LaMelo. Andrew Joseph, For The Win, "LaMelo Ball lashed out at his Lithuanian teammates after Borat-themed prank," 10 June 2018 California is the country's leading dairy producer, and the tariffs represent the latest setback for California's dairy industry. Dale Kasler, sacbee, "How Trump's trade war is hurting California's largest agricultural sector," 8 June 2018 This reform movement had recent setbacks with their candidates losing in Jefferson County, Colo., last year and in Oregon’s Washington County on May 15. Michael Smolens,, "Soros' bid to overhaul criminal justice system hits a wall in Calif.," 5 June 2018

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

See More

First Known Use of setback


1674, in the meaning defined at sense 1


1600, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about setback

Dictionary Entries near setback



set back


set bar

set book/text

set by

Statistics for setback

Last Updated

19 Oct 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for setback

The first known use of setback was in 1600

See more words from the same year

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for setback



English Language Learners Definition of setback

: a problem that makes progress more difficult or success less likely


set·back | \ˈset-ˌbak \

Kids Definition of setback

: a slowing of progress : a temporary defeat Despite several setbacks we finished on schedule.

Keep scrolling for more

Comments on setback

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


to reject or criticize sharply

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Words from Greek and Roman Mythology Quiz

  • the-triumph-of-venus-by-alessandro-magnasco
  • Boreal comes from the name of the ancient Greek god of which wind?
Name That Thing

Test your visual vocabulary with our 10-question challenge!

Bee Cubed

Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.


Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!