ter·​ror ˈter-ər How to pronounce terror (audio)
plural terrors
: a state of intense or overwhelming fear
overcome by terror
people fleeing the scene in terror
He lived in terror of being caught.
: 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
: a very frightening or terrifying aspect
the terrors of war
: 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
informal : an extremely disruptive or annoying person or thing
especially : a misbehaving child : brat
Their son is a little terror.
ˈter-ər-ləs How to pronounce terror (audio)
Choose the Right Synonym for 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

Example Sentences

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 See More
Recent Examples on the Web But this time, in seconds, the lively summer celebration had unraveled into a scene of terror, as the distinct popping sounds of gunfire rang through the street. Jordan Anderson, Chicago Tribune, 22 Nov. 2022 There was a moment of terror when Spirit bounced dramatically upon impact, resulting in a nail-biting delay until the signal was re-established. Jennifer Ouellette, Ars Technica, 21 Nov. 2022 So, there has to be that feeling, a feeling of terror, that inspires a lot of the subject matter in my work. George Varga, San Diego Union-Tribune, 20 Nov. 2022 Ernaux’s resolve here seems very like the performance of a child who has vowed to act adult, to be brave in the face of terror. Alexandra Schwartz, The New Yorker, 14 Nov. 2022 Davison and Harvey sprinkle strong jolts of terror into a story that is otherwise deliberately ambiguous, relying on deep-seated dread and maternal anxiety to ratchet up the tension even when not much else is happening. Noel Murray, Los Angeles Times, 11 Nov. 2022 Because five minutes of terror is the maximum per film at the 2022 Horror Film Roulette competition, which will screen about two dozen of this year's entries Sunday night at the Emagine Royal Oak. Julie Hinds, Detroit Free Press, 21 Oct. 2022 Russian officials blamed the explosion on a truck bomb, calling it an act of terror. CBS News, 9 Oct. 2022 More significantly still, Smith was the outstanding player on the field — other than, perhaps, the fearless Keira Walsh — and a constant source of terror to England’s back line. Rory Smith, New York Times, 7 Oct. 2022 See More

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.

Word History


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

First Known Use

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

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

Dictionary Entries Near terror

Cite this Entry

“Terror.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/terror. Accessed 9 Dec. 2022.

Kids Definition


ter·​ror ˈter-ər How to pronounce terror (audio)
: a state of great fear
: a cause of great fear
: a dreadful person or thing
especially : an unruly child
: violent or destructive acts (as bombing) committed by a group as a way of achieving its goals

Legal Definition


: 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

More from Merriam-Webster on terror

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