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)

Keep scrolling for more

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 The news of her ranking seemed to startle Dr. Richardson, who in her day job is a professor of 19th century American history at Boston College. New York Times, "Heather Cox Richardson Offers a Break From the Media Maelstrom. It’s Working.," 27 Dec. 2020 The defense attorneys knew that the name of their surprise witness would startle the court. Carrie Hagen, Smithsonian Magazine, "The Courageous Tale of Jane Johnson, Who Risked Her Freedom for Those Who Helped Her Escape Slavery," 16 Nov. 2020 One ram spotted me at about a hundred yards, but his uncertainty didn’t startle the group. Tyler Freel, Outdoor Life, "The Dall Sheep That Almost Killed Me," 9 Sep. 2020 Turbo 1,000 lumen mode can potentially startle intruders. Lauren Corona,, "The best flashlight of 2020," 26 Sep. 2020 Beginning in the 1930s, scientists found that systole dampens pain and curbs startle reflexes. Quanta Magazine, "How Your Heart Influences What You Perceive and Fear," 6 July 2020 These noxious emissions can kill other insects, or startle potential predators into backing off. National Geographic, "Bombardier beetles," 30 June 2020 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 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.

See More

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

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about startle

Time Traveler for startle

Time Traveler

The first known use of startle was in 1530

See more words from the same year

Statistics for startle

Last Updated

31 Dec 2020

Cite this Entry

“Startle.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 27 Jan. 2021.

Keep scrolling for more

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.

Keep scrolling for more

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).


Test Your Vocabulary

Slippery Words Quiz—Changing with the Times

  • ducreux self portrait yawning
  • What is an earlier meaning of nice?
How Strong Is Your Vocabulary?

Test your vocabulary with our 10-question quiz!


Anagram puzzles meet word search.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

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