ten·​sion | \ ˈten(t)-shən How to pronounce tension (audio) \

Definition of tension

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1a : inner striving, unrest, or imbalance often with physiological indication of emotion
b : a state of latent hostility or opposition between individuals or groups
c : a balance maintained in an artistic work between opposing forces or elements
2a : the act or action of stretching or the condition or degree of being stretched to stiffness : tautness
3a : either of two balancing forces causing or tending to cause extension
b : the stress resulting from the elongation of an elastic body
4 : a device to produce a desired tension (as in a loom)


tensioned; tensioning\ ˈten(t)-​sh(ə-​)niŋ How to pronounce tensioning (audio) \

Definition of tension (Entry 2 of 2)

transitive verb

: to subject to tension especially : to tighten to a desired or appropriate degree

Keep scrolling for more

Other Words from tension


tensional \ ˈten(t)-​sh(ə-​)nəl How to pronounce tensional (audio) \ adjective
tensionless \ ˈten(t)-​shən-​ləs How to pronounce tensionless (audio) \ adjective


tensioner \ ˈten(t)-​sh(ə-​)nər How to pronounce tensioner (audio) \ noun

Synonyms for tension

Synonyms: Noun

Visit the Thesaurus for More 

Examples of tension in a Sentence

Noun You can see she is just filled with tension about her job. The dramatic tension was very satisfying. The author resolves the tension too soon. Political tensions in the region make it unstable. Do you sense the tension between those two? There was a lot of tension at the meeting. The book describes the tension-filled days before the war. He felt a tension between duty and love. There will always be some tension between the desire to reduce risk and the desire to make as much money as possible.
See More
Recent Examples on the Web: Noun The incident in Corvallis underscores the tension nationwide among some people over whether masks should be worn to prevent the spread of coronavirus, which has killed more than 128,000 Americans, including 208 in Oregon. oregonlive, "Oregon State Police don’t wear coronavirus masks as they patronize Corvallis coffee shop, despite governor’s order," 2 July 2020 One month of Headspace Premium comes in under $13, and gives you ample opportunities to learn—but better yet, anyone unemployed or working in healthcare can get a full year of Headspace for free, to help ease the tension of this difficult time. Tessa Bahoosh, USA TODAY, "16 popular self-care products under $30," 2 July 2020 Lopez soaks readers in the heat of their attraction, the palpable tension of the sweep of Sofia’s chic haircut and the inexorable pull of Aish’s lean, tattooed body and cut-glass cheekbones. Maureen Lee Lenker, EW.com, "Hot Stuff: June romances embrace the inherent sexiness of faking it," 30 June 2020 So there's this tension increasing in a way that the previous generations of people didn't have to think about as much. The Atlantic, "Listen: People Are Panic Moving," 26 June 2020 There was some tension between questioners and the witnesses, particularly when discussing Mr. Trump. Grace Segers, CBS News, "Fauci says he knows of no order to slow down coronavirus testing," 23 June 2020 However, since the annulment, there has been a growing tension between the executive and the country’s judiciary. Rabson Kondowe, Quartz Africa, "Malawi’s do-over election is fraught with tensions and uncertainty amid Covid-19 fears," 23 June 2020 There is interesting tension between liberation and exploitation. Kimberly Wilson, Essence, "Meet The Black Female Showrunner Behind Starz Newest Series 'P-Valley'," 22 June 2020 Evans' story is a bit different from the tension-free accounts of the day slavery ended in the United States — the versions that have made their way into corporate statements, newscasts and conversations all over the country this week. NBC News, "How Juneteenth's history is being reshaped as America reckons with its past," 18 June 2020 Recent Examples on the Web: Verb It can be controlled and aimed easily thanks to its tensioned handles, and the included 25mm and 10mm eyepieces sit snugly and conveniently on the included accessory tray. Popular Science, "Four stellar telescopes for every stargazer," 9 Apr. 2020 The degree of retention can be altered via tensioning screws on the shells. The Editors, Outdoor Life, "The Survival Gear You Want When Things Go Wrong in the Backcountry," 20 Feb. 2020 Post-tensioning Workers must complete the post-tensioning of the bridge segments. Anna Beahm | Abeahm@al.com, al, "What work is left on the I-59/20 bridges?," 23 Oct. 2019 At the Richmond yard, workers are learning to tension the cables and fasten the struts before building the real net over the bay. Rachel Swan, SFChronicle.com, "Golden Gate Bridge suicide nets delayed two years, as people keep jumping," 12 Dec. 2019 The buttons are satisfying and sturdy, with mechanically tensioned springs underneath both the left and right buttons and separate keyplates for accuracy. Jess Grey, WIRED, "The Best Mouse for Every Kind of Gamer," 17 Aug. 2019 The left and right buttons should have individual switches inside the mouse, tensioned to register rapid clicks, and reinforced to withstand more frequent clicks than a normal mouse might. Jess Grey, WIRED, "The Best Mouse for Every Kind of Gamer," 17 Aug. 2019 Engineers not working on the project have speculated that the cracks may have led to adjusting the post-tensioning cables, which strengthen the concrete against the stress of being pulled, and caused the failure. Jenny Staletovich, miamiherald, "NTSB discloses new details about work performed before FIU bridge collapsed | Miami Herald," 21 Mar. 2018 Robert Accetta, the investigator-in-charge for the NTSB, said crews were applying post-tensioning force, but investigators aren’t sure if that’s what caused the bridge to fall. Adriana Gomez Licon, Time, "An Engineer Reported Cracks on FIU Bridge 2 Days Before Deadly Collapse. No One Got the Voicemail, Officials Say," 17 Mar. 2018

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


1533, in the meaning defined at sense 2a


1891, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for tension


borrowed from Middle French and Latin; Middle French, borrowed from Latin tensiōn-, tensiō "process of drawing tight, constriction, spasm," from tendere "to extend outward, stretch, draw tight" + -tiōn-, -tiō, suffix of verbal action — more at tender entry 3


derivative of tension entry 1

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about tension

Time Traveler for tension

Time Traveler

The first known use of tension was in 1533

See more words from the same year

Statistics for tension

Last Updated

5 Jul 2020

Cite this Entry

“Tension.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/tension. Accessed 6 Jul. 2020.

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for tension


How to pronounce tension (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of tension

: a feeling of nervousness that makes you unable to relax
: a feeling of nervousness, excitement, or fear that is created in a movie, book, etc.
: a state in which people, groups, countries, etc., disagree with and feel anger toward each other


ten·​sion | \ ˈten-shən How to pronounce tension (audio) \

Kids Definition of tension

1 : the act of straining or stretching : the condition of being strained or stretched I adjusted the strap's tension.
2 : a state of worry or nervousness
3 : a state of unfriendliness There was tension between the two groups.


ten·​sion | \ ˈten-chən How to pronounce tension (audio) \

Medical Definition of tension

1a : the act or action of stretching or the condition or degree of being stretched to stiffness muscular tension
2a : either of two balancing forces causing or tending to cause extension
b : the stress resulting from the elongation of an elastic body
3 : inner striving, unrest, or imbalance often with physiological indication of emotion

Other Words from tension

tensional \ ˈtench-​nəl, -​ən-​ᵊl How to pronounce tensional (audio) \ adjective
tensionless \ ˈten-​chən-​ləs How to pronounce tensionless (audio) \ adjective

Keep scrolling for more

Comments on tension

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


See Definitions and Examples »

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

A More Exception(al) Quiz

  • hot dog  hot dog  hot dog  hot dog cat
  • Which of the following words is not a synonym for ‘a young person’?
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?

Add Diction

Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

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