ter·​ror | \ ˈter-ər How to pronounce terror (audio) , ˈte-rər \
plural terrors

Definition of terror

1 : a state of intense or overwhelming fear overcome by terror people fleeing the scene in terror He lived in terror of being caught.
2 : violence or the threat of violence used as a weapon of intimidation or coercion a regime that rules by terror especially : violent or destructive acts (such as bombing) committed by groups in order to intimidate a population or government into granting their demands an act of terror the war on terror sometimes used before another noun a terror attack
3 : a very frightening or terrifying aspect the terrors of war
4a : someone or something that inspires fear : scourge I stood before fierce Mrs. Mabel Johnston, his secretary and the terror of the office.— Russell Baker Before rifles were available to Eskimo hunters, bears were truly the terror of their existence.— Charles T. Feazel
b informal : an extremely disruptive or annoying person or thing especially : a misbehaving child : brat Their son is a little terror.

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Other Words from terror

terrorless \ ˈter-​ər-​ləs How to pronounce terror (audio) , ˈte-​rər-​ \ adjective

Synonyms for terror


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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

Examples of terror in a Sentence

The sound of guns being fired fills me with terror. Many civilians fled in terror. a terror that is still fresh in her memory the terrors of life in the jungle a regime that rules by terror bombings and other acts of terror These people have been living with terror and the threat of terror for many years. a campaign of terror against ethnic minority groups
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Recent Examples on the Web The same fear-stoking arguments about the national government telling states how to run their elections were made during the Jim Crow era when black Americans were blocked from the ballot box through terror and violence. WSJ, 10 June 2021 With that ominous two-note John Williams theme and an infamous killer shark, the movie spawned the summer blockbuster and wracked many a nerve with its waterbound terror. Brian Truitt, USA TODAY, 9 June 2021 Haines is overseeing the creation of a new office, called the Foreign Malign Influence Center, to track the abuse of social media accounts by foreign governments and terror networks. Brian Bennett, Time, 7 June 2021 Though the forces of light invariably triumph, the terror brought on by the sudden, surreal inversion of time, space, and temperature was typically interpreted by soothsayers and medicine men as a warning: Pay heed. John Bowe, Travel + Leisure, 5 June 2021 Nor is this outing for the franchise quite as much of a haunted house affair, though a large house on a quiet corner looms throughout with unsettling terror. K. Austin Collins, Rolling Stone, 4 June 2021 In 2013, the Obama Department of Justice seized the records of an Associated Press reporter after the news organization revealed a terror plot that had been broken up by the Central Intelligence Agency. Alex Shephard, The New Republic, 4 June 2021 Every spring, as Rome’s sprawling crow population is consumed with weaning newborn fledglings, some streets become avian terror areas. New York Times, 4 June 2021 Point-of-view shots pull us into Black bodies to feel their joy and their terror: the hand shaking with fear that cannot pump the rail car fast enough, the humanity in a finger gently stroking an okra seed that’s the start of a new life. Susan X Jane, The Christian Science Monitor, 3 June 2021

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.

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First Known Use of terror

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for 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

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Time Traveler for terror

Time Traveler

The first known use of terror was in the 15th century

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Statistics for terror

Last Updated

13 Jun 2021

Cite this Entry

“Terror.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/terror. Accessed 13 Jun. 2021.

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More Definitions for terror



English Language Learners Definition of terror

: 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


ter·​ror | \ ˈter-ər How to pronounce terror (audio) \

Kids Definition of terror

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"



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


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