un·​der·​tow ˈən-dər-ˌtō How to pronounce undertow (audio)
: the current beneath the surface that sets seaward or along the beach when waves are breaking upon the shore
: an underlying current, force, or tendency that is in opposition to what is apparent

Examples of undertow in a Sentence

Don't get caught in the undertow.
Recent Examples on the Web There were notable practitioners in the generation before him (Patrick Leigh Fermor, Jan Morris, Norman Lewis, and Ryszard Kapuściński spring to mind), but Raban’s brilliantly digressive, sometimes confessional style—with its descriptive exactitude and sardonic undertow—signaled new possibilities. Colin Thubron, The New York Review of Books, 19 Jan. 2023 The work has a lot of moving parts, starting with the excellent Choir of Trinity Wall Street and the Del Sol string quartet, which lays down an undertow of slow-moving harmony. An Epic Set, Vulture, 16 Jan. 2024 The stretch of river about 10 miles below Great Falls is known for its rapids and treacherous currents, which include a strong undertow. Martin Weil, Washington Post, 18 Sep. 2023 The surf slams, invisible a few feet away in the profound blackness, the undertow sucking back, the stormy breeze dizzying. Nina Burleigh, Smithsonian Magazine, 4 Jan. 2024 Both her parents were in the ocean when the undertow of a distant earthquake caught them; Chapman, then two years old, was sitting with a babysitter on the beach, and watched as only her mother returned to shore. Casey Cep, The New Yorker, 4 Dec. 2023 In both Afire and Showing Up, this snarling undertow is played to perfection. David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter, 6 Dec. 2023 This undertow has pressured farmers for the past 10 to 20 years, said Ken Ayars, chief of the state’s Environmental Management Division of Agriculture and Forestry. Annie Sherman, BostonGlobe.com, 1 Sep. 2023 The film is carried along by a slow, sickening undertow of suspense, made even more acute by Ernest’s bumbling attempts to hire hitmen competent enough to do the job. Tom Gliatto, Peoplemag, 19 Oct. 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'undertow.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History

First Known Use

1817, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of undertow was in 1817

Dictionary Entries Near undertow

Cite this Entry

“Undertow.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/undertow. Accessed 20 Feb. 2024.

Kids Definition


un·​der·​tow ˈən-dər-ˌtō How to pronounce undertow (audio)
: a current beneath the surface of the water that moves away from or along the shore while the surface water above it moves toward the shore
Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
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