stag·​ger | \ ˈsta-gər How to pronounce stagger (audio) \
staggered; staggering\ ˈsta-​g(ə-​)riŋ How to pronounce stagger (audio) \

Definition of stagger

 (Entry 1 of 3)

intransitive verb

1a : to reel from side to side : totter
b : to move on unsteadily staggered toward the door
2 : to waver in purpose or action : hesitate
3 : to rock violently the ship staggered

transitive verb

1 : to cause to doubt or hesitate : perplex
2 : to cause to reel or totter
3 : to arrange in any of various zigzags, alternations, or overlappings of position or time stagger work shifts stagger teeth on a cutter



Definition of stagger (Entry 2 of 3)

1 staggers plural in form but singular or plural in construction : an abnormal condition of domestic animals associated with damage to the central nervous system and marked by incoordination and a reeling unsteady gait
2 : a reeling or unsteady gait or stance
3 : an arrangement in which the leading edge of the upper wing of a biplane is advanced over that of the lower



Definition of stagger (Entry 3 of 3)

: marked by an alternating or overlapping pattern

Keep scrolling for more

Other Words from stagger


staggerer \ ˈsta-​gər-​ər How to pronounce stagger (audio) \ noun

Synonyms for stagger

Synonyms: Verb

Visit the Thesaurus for More 

Examples of stagger in a Sentence

Verb She staggered over to the sofa. A hard slap on the back staggered him. It staggers me to see how much money they've spent on this project. They staggered the runners' starting positions. Noun He walked with a slight stagger.
See More
Recent Examples on the Web: Verb The health division is coordinating with EMS companies and fire departments to stagger doses among their employees. Christina Hall, Detroit Free Press, "'We're all very excited' as health departments in metro Detroit get COVID-19 vaccine," 18 Dec. 2020 Meanwhile, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will stagger getting her vaccination, to avoid getting it at the same time as Biden, by receiving hers the week after Christmas. Jeanine Santucci, USA TODAY, "Politics live updates: Congress stimulus negotiations stretch into weekend," 20 Dec. 2020 Hospitals must stagger appointments to avoid crowding, and keep those waiting socially distanced. Sarah Krouse, WSJ, "The Mass Distribution of Covid-19 Vaccines Is Under Way. ‘Everything Has to Come Together.’," 14 Dec. 2020 The Fire Department can stagger starting times for inspectors and schedule some of them on weekends, so inspectors would be available before and after regular working hours. Steve Lopez Columnist, Los Angeles Times, "Column: Want to make a fortune in overtime? Apply today to the L.A. Fire Department," 21 Nov. 2020 Donovan seems more likely to use his lineups to get a look at different groups playing together and to stagger minutes based on playing-time needs. Jamal Collier,, "5 things to watch as the Chicago Bulls approach their abbreviated preseason, including Billy Donovan’s rotation and a first look at Patrick Williams," 10 Dec. 2020 Bach’s boss, David Gorman, who is head of homicide unit, believes increasing the age immediately to 24 is too drastic and suggests instead the city might opt to stagger the increase over the years. Washington Post, "D.C. Council weighs controversial measure that would allow hundreds of inmates to seek release from prison after 15 years of incarceration," 27 Nov. 2020 Back in Golden Valley, PRISM is collecting toys from churches and other groups and will stagger shifts for families to pick up toys over several days for social distancing. Kelly Smith, Star Tribune, "From free Thanksgiving meals to Christmas toy drives, Minnesota nonprofits retool traditions in COVID-19," 14 Nov. 2020 So, that could stagger or, more likely, delay the start of minor league spring training, which would delay and probably shorten the minor league season. Evan Grant, Dallas News, "Fans got some good exposure to Rangers minor leaguers last season. Here are some who could arrive in 2021," 12 Nov. 2020 Recent Examples on the Web: Noun The shutdown comes as health care workers at hospitals, clinics and care facilities in the Bay Area and throughout the state stagger under the weight of the largest increase in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations since the pandemic began. Peter Fimrite,, "ICU availability plummets to all-time low, as California goes into strict lockdown," 18 Dec. 2020 Conflicts of interest impact decisions to close borders, implement quarantines, impose lockdowns, stagger reopenings, enforce social distancing and mandate mask-wearing. Sunita Sah, Scientific American, "Conflicts of Interest and COVID," 3 Dec. 2020 Throughout Fast, Cheap & Out of Control, Brooks suggests that the instability of human bodies—the wobble, stagger, fall, self-righting—might be the source of consciousness itself. Virginia Heffernan, Wired, "My Roomba Has Achieved Enlightenment," 20 Oct. 2020 Here, Royce is waiting to trap on the other side of the Jokic screen, but what nobody seems to realize is that this middle stagger action involves mutliple pickers. Andy Larsen, The Salt Lake Tribune, "Jamal Murray could set a record for points in a playoff series. Do the Jazz have a way to stop him?," 31 Aug. 2020 Alex Van Pelt has changed his footwork Offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt immediately changed Mayfield’s footwork, asking him to lead with his left foot with in the shotgun and on shorter drops and removing a giant stagger from his dropbacks. cleveland, "Will Baker Mayfield regain his accuracy? Cleveland Browns 20 questions for ‘20," 8 July 2020 Transporting students also has become a logistical nightmare with districts trying to social-distance them in buses and stagger schedules, while keeping the vehicles sanitized, according to some district officials. Tawnell D. Hobbs, WSJ, "Millions of Students Head Back to School for a Year Like No Other," 8 Sep. 2020 How sad to watch three of Power Five college football conferences stagger on toward a pandemic season with outbreaks surfacing at every turn. Bruce Jenkins,, "NBA draft 2020: Why Warriors should take James Wiseman with No. 2 pick," 21 Aug. 2020 Guidelines suggest that workplaces stagger shifts, to reduce the number of people in the office at one time. Mary Kilpatrick, cleveland, "How offices are returning to work safely during coronavirus: Top Workplaces 2020," 28 June 2020 Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective The state also recommends businesses stagger workers’ schedules. Fortune, "New York City entered reopening phase 1 of 4 today. Here’s what will change in each phase," 8 June 2020 Schools across the nation are planning deep cleans as students stagger schedules to return to instruction. John Bacon, USA TODAY, "Many businesses promise to 'deep clean' offices before reopening. But what does that mean?," 3 June 2020

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


15th century, in the meaning defined at intransitive sense 1a


1577, in the meaning defined at sense 1


1918, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for stagger


alteration of earlier stacker, from Middle English stakeren, from Old Norse stakra, frequentative of staka to push; perhaps akin to Old English staca stake — more at stake

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about stagger

Time Traveler for stagger

Time Traveler

The first known use of stagger was in the 15th century

See more words from the same century

Statistics for stagger

Last Updated

13 Jan 2021

Cite this Entry

“Stagger.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 25 Jan. 2021.

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for stagger


How to pronounce stagger (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of stagger

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: to move or cause (someone) to move unsteadily from side to side
: to shock or surprise (someone) very much
: to arrange (things) in a series of different positions or times



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

: an unsteady movement while walking or standing


stag·​ger | \ ˈsta-gər How to pronounce stagger (audio) \
staggered; staggering

Kids Definition of stagger

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 : to move or cause to move unsteadily from side to side as if about to fall : reel He staggered under the load's weight.
2 : to cause or feel great surprise or shock The news staggered me.
3 : to arrange or be arranged in a zigzag but balanced way She stared at the dark brown and purple ridges staggered in the distance …— Pam Muñoz Ryan, Esperanza Rising



Kids Definition of stagger (Entry 2 of 2)

: a reeling or unsteady walk

Keep scrolling for more

Comments on stagger

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


Test Your Vocabulary

Slippery Words Quiz—Changing with the Times

  • ducreux self portrait yawning
  • What is an earlier meaning of nice?
True or False

Test your knowledge - and maybe learn something along the way.

Universal Daily Crossword

A daily challenge for crossword fanatics.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

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