tense

adjective
\ ˈten(t)s How to pronounce tense (audio) \
tenser; tensest

Definition of tense

 (Entry 1 of 3)

1 : stretched tight : made taut : rigid tense muscles
2a : feeling or showing nervous tension a tense smile
b : marked by strain or suspense a tense thriller
3 : produced with the muscles involved in a relatively tense state the vowels \ē\ and \ü\ in contrast with the vowels \i\ and \u̇\ are tense

tense

verb
tensed; tensing

Definition of tense (Entry 2 of 3)

transitive verb

: to make tense

intransitive verb

: to become tense tensed up and missed the putt

tense

noun

Definition of tense (Entry 3 of 3)

1 : a distinction of form in a verb to express distinctions of time or duration of the action or state it denotes
2a : a set of inflectional forms of a verb that express distinctions of time
b : an inflectional form of a verb expressing a specific time distinction

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Other Words from tense

Adjective

tensely adverb
tenseness noun

Examples of tense in a Sentence

Adjective She was feeling pretty tense. Why are you so tense? We sat quietly for a few tense moments. It was a tense meeting. My calf muscles are really tense. Verb She tensed as he walked toward her. He tensed up and missed the putt. Noun The sentence will read better if you change the tense of the verb. You should avoid changing tense in the middle of a paragraph.
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Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador will meet with President Trump in Washington next month for the first time, punctuating an often tense relationship during which Mexico has frequently been used as Trump's punching bag. Kevin Sieff, Washington Post, "Mexican president’s plan to meet Trump in Washington draws criticism at home," 25 June 2020 In a tense 5-1 vote, the Oakland City Council passes a budget that includes a modest cut to its police force. Anna Buchmann, SFChronicle.com, "Bay Briefing: How will new coronavirus surge affect California’s reopening?," 25 June 2020 From the looks of the first trailer, things are beyond tense. Ruth Kinane, EW.com, "Watch the tense trailer for Netflix's refugee drama Stateless," 24 June 2020 Monday night saw tense clashes between protesters and police outside the area near Lafayette Park in the district. Dominick Mastrangelo, Washington Examiner, "WATCH: NBC's Andrea Mitchell and DC delegate accosted on the street," 23 June 2020 Authorities vacated the East Precinct this month amid increasingly tense protests over the killing of George Floyd. NBC News, "Officials tell protesters to leave Seattle's 'autonomous zone'," 23 June 2020 Things are still tense between law enforcement and demonstrators protesting police brutality. Harmeet Kaur, CNN, "5 things to know for June 23: Covid, elections, Rayshard Brooks, police, immigration," 23 June 2020 Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has had tense relations with senior officials in his own Department of Health, stripped the department of oversight for the program in May, moving it under the umbrella of the city’s public hospitals agency. Sharon Otterman, BostonGlobe.com, "New York City hired 3,000 workers for contact tracing. It’s not going well.," 21 June 2020 So there’s no wonder why those tense closing minutes of Game 7 were that much more nerve-racking. Casey L. Moore, USA TODAY, "Cleveland Cavaliers' 2016 NBA championship delivered city, fans long-awaited day in the sun," 20 June 2020 Recent Examples on the Web: Verb As the engine's torque builds, the entire car seems to tense up before surging forward in a boiling burst of speed. John Pearley Huffman, Car and Driver, "2020 Aston Martin DBS Superleggera Is a Graceful Rocket," 27 May 2020 After the fifth time this happens, viewers may find themselves tensing or flinching or feeling exhausted whenever a man appears on screen. Kaitlin Menza, Marie Claire, "The Excruciating Necessity of 'Never Rarely Sometimes Always'," 10 Apr. 2020 Morris swore, and swore again, his body tensing up in his suit. Eric Boodman, STAT, "With masks dwindling, a hospital’s Covid-19 crisis team searches for a way out," 27 Mar. 2020 Meanwhile, a 6-year-old girl in Minnesota, Cameron Brundidge, saw her brother, Brandon, who has crippling anxiety because of his autism diagnosis, starting to tense up watching the news. Fox News, "#coronaviruskindness: Moments of community kindness, love warm up pandemic fears," 16 Mar. 2020 Your eyes spring open, your breathing rapid and shallow, with every muscle tensed and ready to run...only to find that all is still and silent. Mary Beth Griggs, Popular Science, "How to get rid of mice," 18 Dec. 2019 For the first time in our conversation, Ah Ying tensed visibly. Jiayang Fan, The New Yorker, "Hong Kong’s Protest Movement and the Fight for the City’s Soul," 9 Dec. 2019 Anyone who has ever watched a horror film will find their muscles tensing. New York Times, "Three Movie Stars Head for Dubai but End Up in the Uncanny Valley," 15 Jan. 2020 Spectators gathered, tensing slightly the way people do when disorder is erupting. Kelefa Sanneh, The New Yorker, "The Safdie Brothers’ Full-Immersion Filmmaking," 9 Dec. 2019 Recent Examples on the Web: Noun Was that interview with her in the dressing room after your elimination tense? Joey Nolfi, EW.com, "Mariah Balenciaga proudly shook the system on Drag Race return: 'My message was heard'," 22 June 2020 Aside from a few small scuffles over signs near the monument, the protest had largely been peaceful, although tense at times. Katie Shepherd, Anchorage Daily News, "Armed militia member arrested after man is shot at Albuquerque protest," 16 June 2020 Smarro and his then-partner, a former Boy Scout named Ernie Stevens, were often placed in tense and potentially volatile situations. Jasper Craven, The New Republic, "The Police’s “Sheepdog” Problem," 11 June 2020 Trump shifted verb tenses and subjects without warning. Los Angeles Times, "Can’t decipher Trump-speak? Meet Margaret, the computer bot," 7 May 2020 Now, millions of people across the country are risking their health to wait in tense, sometimes desperate, new lines for basic needs as the economic toll of the virus grips the country. Jack Healy, New York Times, "It’s ‘People, People, People’ as Lines Stretch Across America," 12 Apr. 2020 Now, millions of people across the country are risking their health to wait in tense, sometimes desperate, new lines for basic needs as the economic toll of the virus grips the country. Jack Healy, BostonGlobe.com, "It’s ‘people, people, people’ as lines stretch across America," 12 Apr. 2020 From noon until midnight, Sherwood would binge every tense back-and-forth, every clutch free throw, every last-second shot. Jon Blau, Indianapolis Star, "Can't watch March Madness for real? Simulate your own game," 22 Mar. 2020 Agu’s installation speaks in a warning future-perfect tense: this is what will have been Louisiana. Zachary Fine, The New York Review of Books, "Swampland Sublime: The Landscapes of Louisiana," 8 Feb. 2020

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

Adjective

1668, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Verb

1676, in the meaning defined at transitive sense

Noun

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for tense

Adjective

borrowed from Latin tensus, from past participle of tendere "to extend outward, stretch, spread out" — more at tender entry 3

Verb

derivative of tense entry 1

Noun

Middle English tens, borrowed from Anglo-French tens, temps "time, moment, season, tense," going back to Latin tempus "period of time, season, tense" — more at tempo

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Time Traveler for tense

Time Traveler

The first known use of tense was in the 14th century

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Statistics for tense

Last Updated

28 Jun 2020

Cite this Entry

“Tense.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/tense. Accessed 7 Jul. 2020.

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More Definitions for tense

tense

adjective
How to pronounce tense (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of tense

 (Entry 1 of 3)

: nervous and not able to relax
: showing or causing nervousness
: not relaxed but hard and tight

tense

verb

English Language Learners Definition of tense (Entry 2 of 3)

: to make (a muscle) hard and tight
: to become nervous or tense

tense

noun

English Language Learners Definition of tense (Entry 3 of 3)

grammar : a form of a verb that is used to show when an action happened

tense

noun
\ ˈtens How to pronounce tense (audio) \

Kids Definition of tense

 (Entry 1 of 3)

: a form of a verb used to show the time of the action or state

tense

adjective
tenser; tensest

Kids Definition of tense (Entry 2 of 3)

1 : feeling or showing worry or nervousness : not relaxed a tense smile
2 : marked by strain or uncertainty a tense moment
3 : stretched tight tense muscles

Other Words from tense

tensely adverb
tenseness noun

tense

verb
tensed; tensing

Kids Definition of tense (Entry 3 of 3)

1 : to make or become worried or nervous She tensed as the deadline grew near.
2 : to make (a muscle) hard and tight She tensed her shoulders.

tense

adjective
\ ˈten(t)s How to pronounce tense (audio) \
tenser; tensest

Medical Definition of tense

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 : stretched tight : made taut or rigid the skeletal musculature involuntarily becomes tense— H. G. Armstrong
2 : feeling or showing nervous tension was tense and irritable

Other Words from tense

tenseness noun

tense

verb
tensed; tensing

Medical Definition of tense (Entry 2 of 2)

transitive verb

: to make tense tense a muscle

intransitive verb

: to become tense

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More from Merriam-Webster on tense

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for tense

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with tense

Spanish Central: Translation of tense

Nglish: Translation of tense for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of tense for Arabic Speakers

Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about tense

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