sput·​ter | \ˈspə-tər \
sputtered; sputtering; sputters

Definition of sputter 

(Entry 1 of 2)

transitive verb

1 : to spit or squirt from the mouth with explosive sounds

2 : to utter hastily or explosively in confusion or excitement "that's ridiculous!" she sputtered

3 : to dislodge (atoms) from the surface of a material by collision with high energy particles also : to deposit (a metallic film) by such a process

intransitive verb

1 : to spit or squirt particles of food or saliva noisily from the mouth

2 : to speak explosively or confusedly in anger or excitement

3 : to make explosive popping sounds



Definition of sputter (Entry 2 of 2)

1 : confused and excited speech or discussion

2 : the act or sound of sputtering

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Other Words from sputter


sputterer noun

Examples of sputter in a Sentence


The motor sputtered and died. He was sputtering with rage. She sputtered an angry protest. “You, you have to be kidding!” he sputtered.
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Recent Examples on the Web: Verb

Then, on the final lap, the #85 Oreca LMP2 of JDC-Miller Motorsport sputtered to a halt, handing eighth place—and the 2018 team's prototype championship—to the Whelan Engineering Cadillac. Jonathan M. Gitlin, Ars Technica, "The Petit Le Mans: More proof we’re in a golden age for sportscar racing," 18 Oct. 2018 There was plenty of material for the show’s writers to work with: The opening mainly focused on Kavanaugh’s sputtering, sneering, and hyper-aggressive answers to the questions posed by the Senate committee. Christian Allaire, Vogue, "Matt Damon Plays Brett Kavanaugh in Saturday Night Live’s Season Premiere," 30 Sep. 2018 The story: Sean Miller, one of Mack's noted mentors, was sent packing in the 2017 NCAA Tournament via a wild upset at the hands of a Mack team that sputtered late in the season but came on very strong in postseason play in March. Patrick Brennan, Cincinnati.com, "The top 5 moments of Chris Mack's Xavier basketball tenure," 26 Mar. 2018 The most tragic accident at the airport took place in 2001, when an Air Caraïbes twin-engine from St. Maarten approached the runway, sputtered, and plunged onto a house, killing 20 people, including one on the ground. Peter Greenberg, Town & Country, "Unfriendly Skies," 7 Feb. 2014 Just a few months ago the project, officially known as California WaterFix, was sputtering for a lack of funds. Dale Kasler, sacbee, "Brown's Delta tunnels get $650 million boost from Bay Area water agency," 8 May 2018 Alabama hanging in there Alabama offense still sputtering. Erick Smith, USA TODAY, "Alabama beats Georgia in overtime of College Football Playoff championship game," 8 Jan. 2018 The three engines, one each under the left and right wings and a third mounted in front, sputtered a bit before roaring to life. Mike Glenn, Houston Chronicle, "Piece of aviation history soars over Houston," 9 Apr. 2018 Smiles flashed and cheeks flushed as small talk sputtered into conversation. Bob Morris, Town & Country, "The Curious Plight of the Modern Debutante," 28 Nov. 2017

Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

As the world-wide smartphone market sputters, the iPhone maker is trying to accelerate a growing services business that includes app store sales, mobile payments and a music-streaming subscription offering. Erich Schwartzel, WSJ, "Apple Partners With Movie Studio A24 to Make Feature-Length Films," 15 Nov. 2018 Throughout its two seasons, HBO’s Westworld has trotted out no shortage of bad guys, from robot gunslingers to mad inventors to dialog that sputters and clunks. Brian Barrett, WIRED, "Westworld’s Real Villain Has Always Been Its Privacy Policy," 24 June 2018 No buzzing sales banter and gossip, no sputter of yellow and white taxis or boda boda taxi bikes. David Mckenzie, CNN, "Fear and failure: How Ebola sparked a global health revolution," 26 May 2018 One takes a drag, coughs extensively, sputters, hocks an impressive loogie. Elisa Albert, Longreads, "O, Small-bany!," 7 May 2018 Should that possibility sputter, Salvini has expressed openness to a deal between his anti-migrant League and the 5-Stars. Washington Post, "Italian region votes as political leaders spar over future," 29 Apr. 2018 Unfortunately, where The Iron Giant contains a graceful arc, Lost in Space sputters. Karen Han, The Verge, "Lost in Space shows a long-running problem with stories about AI," 24 Apr. 2018 Since 2015 Hon Hai gets more than half its revenue from Apple but Gou’s looking for ways to expand beyond merely assembling gadgets -- especially as the smartphone market sputters. Debby Wu, Bloomberg.com, "Hon Hai Profit Shows IPhone Delay Offset by One-Time Sharp Gain," 30 Mar. 2018 Mitch Albom Pittsburgh 30, Minnesota 21 This is based on a feeling that all is not perfect in New England, and that maybe this is the year the engine sputters. Detroit Free Press, "Super Bowl LII: Our writers make picks on this season's NFL champ," 5 Jan. 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'sputter.' 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 sputter


1598, in the meaning defined at transitive sense 1


1673, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for sputter


akin to Dutch sputteren to sputter

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Statistics for sputter

Last Updated

30 Nov 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for sputter

The first known use of sputter was in 1598

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More Definitions for sputter



English Language Learners Definition of sputter

: to make loud sounds like explosions

: to speak quickly or in a confused way because you are upset, surprised, etc.


sput·​ter | \ˈspə-tər \
sputtered; sputtering

Kids Definition of sputter

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 : to spit noisily from the mouth She came out of the water coughing and sputtering.

2 : to speak in a hasty or explosive way in confusion or excitement Students sputtered out protests.

3 : to make explosive popping sounds The motor sputtered and died.



Kids Definition of sputter (Entry 2 of 2)

: the act or sound of sputtering

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More from Merriam-Webster on sputter

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with sputter

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for sputter

Spanish Central: Translation of sputter

Nglish: Translation of sputter for Spanish Speakers

Comments on sputter

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


to move with a clumsy heavy tread

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