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

Other Words from startle


startlement \ ˈstär-​tᵊl-​mənt How to pronounce startle (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 But, when Rowe set the pistol down, the movement seemed to startle Paulson, who fired off a three-round burst from his Soviet-era rifle. Rachel Monroe, The New Yorker, 12 Apr. 2022 Live performance returns control of volume and dynamics back to the actors and their technical colleagues, allowing them to both lull and startle us. Jim Higgins, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 12 Apr. 2022 Only on her last day, before the end of filming, did Jones startle her by breaking character to run up for a goodbye hug. New York Times, 1 Apr. 2022 James is lean, angular, and brunette, though her naturally dark locks startle fans of her series of onscreen blondes: wildling Lady Rose MacClare in Downton Abbey, restless waitress Debora in Baby Driver, a younger Meryl Streep in Mamma Mia! Amy Nicholson, Rolling Stone, 9 Feb. 2022 Additional activities let visitors compare their balance, grip strength and startle response with those of others. Washington Post, 1 Aug. 2014 Sometimes that conversation needs to be a shout and a building should startle us to our senses. Elizabeth Evitts Dickinson, Washington Post, 23 Mar. 2022 Still, the sound was enough to startle my grandfather, Papa Gane, who had been drinking coffee and reading the paper at the breakfast table. al, 8 Mar. 2022 Maneuvering the overhead equipment tended to startle the flies, so those 26 flights represent flies who remained on their perch as the apparatus was set up around them instead of flying away. Jennifer Ouellette, Ars Technica, 15 Feb. 2022 Recent Examples on the Web: Noun And while Levins, 32, of Frankfort, acknowledged the animals may play into some people’s phobias, a startle can be the start of a conversation with one of Crosstown’s handlers. Bill Jones,, 11 Oct. 2021 Those penguins themselves had something of the startle of art — the reveal of the ever-present real that’s hidden, paradoxically, by information. New York Times, 8 July 2020 Many of their primitive reflexes, such as sucking and the startle reflex, will remain at this age. New York Times, 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, 13 Feb. 2020 Oh, there are some startles and blood-curdling screams, but that’s mostly from the guests. Angela Hill, The Mercury News, 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, 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, 18 May 2018 And by reducing wild startles, swaddling reduces night wakings. Anya Leon,, 27 Feb. 2018 See More

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.

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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Dictionary Entries Near startle

start in on


startle pattern

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Statistics for startle

Last Updated

6 May 2022

Cite this Entry

“Startle.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 25 May. 2022.

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More Definitions for startle


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.

More from Merriam-Webster on startle

Nglish: Translation of startle for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of startle for Arabic Speakers


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