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)

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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 Here, Edith no longer worried that the pop of gunshots would startle her awake., "Edith Turner heads down a street in Pontiac in the early morning hours on Friday, October 18, 2019, to the bus stop on Telegraph Road...," 18 Apr. 2021 Some some take hikes in the woods dressed in their colonial clothes as well as masks—which can startle other hikers. Cameron Mcwhirter, WSJ, "Revolutionary War Re-enactors Rebel Against the Pandemic," 1 Apr. 2021 Watching characters crammed together in a small space, picking over a buffet of food and getting in each other's faces may startle some after spending a year in quarantine. David Oliver, USA TODAY, "Jewish comedy 'Shiva Baby' is a perfect holiday watch – but maybe not with your parents," 30 Mar. 2021 DePaul, which finished 11th in the 11-team Big East, came out of nowhere to startle No. Dom Amore,, "UConn men delivered solid, clean effort to start Big East Tournament," 12 Mar. 2021 Every time a car races out of the fog, the birds startle and scatter. Paul Yoon, The Atlantic, "Person of Korea," 13 Mar. 2021 The mall prohibited use of the traditional starting gun so as not to startle shoppers above. Kevin Armstrong, WSJ, "Covid Winter Chases Runners Into Parking Garages," 5 Mar. 2021 Even at altitude its supersonic boom will startle people on the ground. Thomas E. Stimson, Popular Mechanics, "Remembering the B-70: The Weird Supersonic Bomber That Never Was," 11 Feb. 2021 For example, people used to encourage cat owners to startle a cat scratching on furniture by throwing soda cans filled with pennies near the cat, or to use a spray bottle to discourage cats from getting onto counters. Sassafras Lowrey, Wired, "In Praise of Positive Reinforcement for Your Pets," 30 Jan. 2021 Recent Examples on the Web: Noun 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, "CoLM toibin," 8 July 2020 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

24 Apr 2021

Cite this Entry

“Startle.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 11 May. 2021.

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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 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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