star·tle | \ ˈstär-tᵊl \
startled; startling\ˈstärt-liŋ, 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 \ noun

Synonyms & Antonyms for startle

Synonyms: Verb

alarm (also alarum), fright, frighten, horrify, panic, scare, shock, spook, terrify, terrorize

Antonyms: Verb


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Examples of startle in a Sentence


I'm sorry that I startled you. the lightning startled the children and sent them scurrying for cover

Recent Examples on the Web: Verb

The Fourth of July is always peak season for runaway dogs, who take off when startled by the loud explosions of fireworks. Billy Baker,, "Summer fireworks season is peak time for runaway dogs," 7 July 2018 On a recent visit, I was startled by a family of bighorn sheep lounging on a picnic ramada at the rest area. Mare Czinar, azcentral, "Arizona hike: Wildlife abounds on the South Fork Trail," 19 June 2018 Some attendees at the music festival said the sound startled them and caused them to run for cover. Madison Park, CNN, "Sound effects startled fans at Eminem performance," 11 June 2018 Challenge the paradigm of the viewer, and they may just be startled into seeing their own reality in a new way. Alissa Wilkinson, Vox, "Movies are blurring fact and fiction on purpose. What does that do to the audience?," 30 May 2018 Many are three-dimensional: Cut-out butterflies are attached to paintings of flowers; colorful feathers are attached to drawings of birds; and masks made from multiple layers of paper provide startling realism. Mary Jane Brewer,, "H.G. Blake Elementary School student artwork displayed at Medina Library," 21 Apr. 2018 At Switzerland’s museum dedicated to Eastern cultures, depictions of monsters, devils and demons by Indian, Japanese, Persian and Swiss artists come together to startle visitors this summer. Sarah Maiellano, USA TODAY, "The best museum exhibits in Europe this summer," 18 June 2018 But, of course, what startles about Openwater is the proposal to read and write thoughts. Jason Pontin, WIRED, "Thought-Reading Machines and the Death of Love," 16 Apr. 2018 The violence spills over to startling effect in neighboring Rwanda, where members of Gabriel’s Tutsi family are caught up in a blood bath. New York Times, "A French-Rwandan Rap Star Turned Novelist From Burundi," 29 May 2018

Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

Ayton, almost a month away from his 20th birthday, startles as a 7-foot, 260-pound transformer with a 7-5 wingspan who shoots, passes, dribbles, runs, slides and jumps like a wing with a post game. Paul Coro,, "Potential No. 1 draft pick Deandre Ayton says he and Devin Booker could be "Shaq and Kobe 2.0" for Phoenix Suns," 18 June 2018 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 Even now, 35 years later, John Williams’ music from E.T. startles with its beauty and directness. Peter Dobrin,, "Philly astronaut Bluford gets his props at the Mann - and a soaring orchestral number in his honor," 26 July 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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Statistics for startle

Last Updated

13 Sep 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for startle

The first known use of startle was in 1530

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More Definitions for startle



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 \
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

Comments on startle

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


alleviating pain or harshness

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