star·​tle | \ ˈstär-tᵊl How to pronounce startle (audio) \
startled; startling\ ˈstärt-​liŋ How to pronounce startling (audio) , ˈstär-​tᵊl-​iŋ \

Definition of startle

 (Entry 1 of 2)

intransitive verb

: to move or jump suddenly (as in surprise or alarm) the baby startles easily

transitive verb

: to frighten or surprise suddenly and usually not seriously



Definition of startle (Entry 2 of 2)

: a sudden mild shock (as of surprise or alarm)

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Other Words from startle


startlement \ ˈstär-​tᵊl-​mənt How to pronounce startlement (audio) \ noun

Examples of startle in a Sentence

Verb I'm sorry that I startled you. the lightning startled the children and sent them scurrying for cover
Recent Examples on the Web: Verb Okay, there are days in which that enthusiasm might startle the pros. Bernhard Warner, Fortune, "The Nasdaq is on a bull run for the ages. Will the Fed keep the rally going?," 9 June 2020 In the Netherlands, the intimate gaze of the Girl with the Pearl Earring can once again startle and entice visitors. Raf Casert And Peter Dejong, USA TODAY, "Famed European museums begin to reopen from the coronavirus shutdown: 'A day to celebrate'," 2 June 2020 Mexico's Presidency, via Reuters The numbers were startling: In March, Mexico’s government said, the country’s emergency call centers were flooded with more than 26,000 reports of violence against women, the highest since the hotline was created. Natalie Kitroeff, New York Times, "Mexico’s President Says Most Domestic Violence Calls Are ‘Fake’," 31 May 2020 Halperin reported tensions in Columbus began escalating around 11:15 p.m., showing video of a plastic bottle being thrown at the feet of a horse ridden by a police officer, startling the horse. Cliff Pinckard, cleveland, "Ohio Statehouse damaged during protests in Columbus over death of George Floyd," 29 May 2020 Sows with cubs are most likely to attack, but bears startled at close range, encountered during mating season, or guarding kills may also react aggressively. Keith Mccafferty, Field & Stream, "What Should You Do If a Grizzly Bear Attacks?," 27 May 2020 Walker, believing the apartment was being broken in to after being startled awake by police's entry, fired a shot and struck an officer in the leg, his attorney has said. Darcy Costello, The Courier-Journal, "Louisville police pursued 'no-knock' search warrant in fatal shooting of EMT in her home," 12 May 2020 But something had startled Poitras, startled her enough to break email discipline. Barton Gellman, Washington Post, "After receiving top-secret documents from the NSA whistleblower, reporter Barton Gellman broke the news that the National Security Agency was spying on Americans. Here’s how it happened.," 11 May 2020 But what startled a lot of us is the giant disparity between the country's North and South. Bernhard Warner, Fortune, "Investors shrug off coronavirus bailout tab, sending markets higher," 5 May 2020 Recent Examples on the Web: Noun Many of their primitive reflexes, such as sucking and the startle reflex, will remain at this age. New York Times, "The science of your 4-month-old," 18 Apr. 2020 The initial visual startle of her work quickly becomes subcutaneous in feeling: the realm of fantasy and superstition. Megan O’grady, New York Times, "A Sculptor of the Female Gaze," 13 Feb. 2020 Oh, there are some startles and blood-curdling screams, but that’s mostly from the guests. Angela Hill, The Mercury News, "Halloween hauntings at Winchester Mystery House and beyond," 21 Sep. 2019 Landon Hawkins is a riot as dour and petulant sister Mary Bennet, whose lurking startles everyone, and uncomplicatedly upbeat as sister Jane’s suitor Bingley, who’s treated literally like a puppy. Sam Hurwitt, The Mercury News, "Review: Shakespeare’s twins, Jane Austen romance delight in Santa Cruz," 31 July 2019 By the early '90s, psychiatrists treating urban residents were diagnosing sleep disorders, extreme startle responses, flashbacks, lost hope for the future, homelessness, alcoholism, suicide and even biochemical changes in the brain. John Schmid, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "With PTSD reaching well beyond combat vets, trauma experts see need for 'healing spaces'," 18 May 2018 And by reducing wild startles, swaddling reduces night wakings. Anya Leon,, "5 Tips to Help Your Baby Be a Great Sleeper from Dr. Harvey Karp, Founder of Happiest Baby," 27 Feb. 2018 Who hasn't giggled, eliciting that startle in someone else? Maria Shine Stewart,, "Neighbors can help in times of fun and of fear: Sun Messages," 28 Oct. 2017

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


1530, in the meaning defined at intransitive sense


1603, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for startle


Middle English stertlen, frequentative of sterten to start

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Time Traveler for startle

Time Traveler

The first known use of startle was in 1530

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Statistics for startle

Last Updated

22 Jun 2020

Cite this Entry

“Startle.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 2 Jul. 2020.

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More Definitions for startle


How to pronounce startle (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of startle

: to surprise or frighten (someone) suddenly and usually not seriously
: to move or jump suddenly because something surprises you or frightens you


star·​tle | \ ˈstär-tᵊl How to pronounce startle (audio) \
startled; startling

Kids Definition of startle

1 : to move or jump (as in surprise or fear) The cat startles easily.
2 : to frighten suddenly but slightly A knock on the window startled her.

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More from Merriam-Webster on startle

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for startle

Spanish Central: Translation of startle

Nglish: Translation of startle for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of startle for Arabic Speakers

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