noun ter·ror \ ˈter-ər , ˈte-rər \
|Updated on: 19 Jul 2018

Definition of terror

1 : a state of intense fear
2 a : one that inspires fear : scourge
b : a frightening aspect
c : a cause of anxiety : worry
d : an appalling person or thing; especially : brat
4 : violent or destructive acts (such as bombing) committed by groups in order to intimidate a population or government into granting their demands


play \ˈter-ər-ləs, ˈte-rər-\ adjective

Examples of terror in a Sentence

  1. The sound of guns being fired fills me with terror.

  2. Many civilians fled in terror.

  3. a terror that is still fresh in her memory

  4. the terrors of life in the jungle

  5. a regime that rules by terror

  6. bombings and other acts of terror

  7. These people have been living with terror and the threat of terror for many years.

  8. a campaign of terror against ethnic minority groups

Recent Examples of terror from the Web

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'terror.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

Origin and Etymology of terror

Middle English, from Anglo-French terrour, from Latin terror, from terrēre to frighten; akin to Greek trein to be afraid, flee, tremein to tremble — more at tremble

Synonym Discussion of terror

fear, dread, fright, alarm, panic, terror, trepidation mean painful agitation in the presence or anticipation of danger. fear is the most general term and implies anxiety and usually loss of courage.
    • fear of the unknown
dread usually adds the idea of intense reluctance to face or meet a person or situation and suggests aversion as well as anxiety.
    • faced the meeting with dread
fright implies the shock of sudden, startling fear.
    • fright at being awakened suddenly
alarm suggests a sudden and intense awareness of immediate danger.
    • view the situation with alarm
panic implies unreasoning and overmastering fear causing hysterical activity.
    • the news caused widespread panic
terror implies the most extreme degree of fear.
    • immobilized with terror
trepidation adds to dread the implications of timidity, trembling, and hesitation.
    • raised the subject with trepidation

TERROR Defined for English Language Learners


Definition of terror for English Language Learners

  • : a very strong feeling of fear

  • : something that causes very strong feelings of fear : something that is terrifying

  • : violence that is committed by a person, group, or government in order to frighten people and achieve a political goal

TERROR Defined for Kids


noun ter·ror \ ˈter-ər \

Definition of terror for Students

1 : a state of great fear
  • They fled in terror.
2 : a cause of great fear
  • All these, however, were mere terrors of the night …
  • —Washington Irving, “Sleepy Hollow”

Law Dictionary


noun ter·ror

legal Definition of terror

: an intense fear of physical injury or death
  • inflict terror by forced entry or unlawful assembly
; also : the infliction of such fear
  • an act of terror

Seen and Heard

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

Love words? Need even more definitions?

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


to hasten

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Test Your Emoji Exceptionalism

  • test-your-emoji-exceptionalism-written-with-a-lot-of-emoji
  • What is this emoji intended to represent: 🤳
How Strong Is Your Vocabulary?

Test your vocabulary with our 10-question quiz!


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!