hos·​tage ˈhä-stij How to pronounce hostage (audio)
: a person held by one party in a conflict as a pledge pending the fulfillment of an agreement
: a person taken by force to secure the taker's demands
: one that is involuntarily controlled by an outside influence

Example Sentences

The terrorists demanded a plane and a pilot in exchange for the hostages. The hostage crisis is now entering its second week. The passengers were taken hostage. They were held hostage for several days.
Recent Examples on the Web Jackson is being held hostage at the Armory, Parrish is locked in Eichen House, and the Sheriff's department has detained Scott's dad. Samantha Olson, Seventeen, 20 Jan. 2023 The prosecution said Connor and Lawrence, friendly with one of the thieves, were held hostage by Parks, while others present at the gun sale were ordered to make multiple phone calls to the friend in a futile attempt to persuade him to return. Hartford Courant, 19 Jan. 2023 By making concessions to far-right representatives, Mr. McCarthy has effectively given them carte blanche to disrupt the workings of the House — and to hold him hostage to their demands. Catie Edmondson, New York Times, 10 Jan. 2023 Big Business has become hostage to cost-cutting and profit-squeezing. Los Angeles Times, 29 Dec. 2022 After the heist goes wrong, the brothers hijack an ambulance and hold two first responders hostage. Catherine Santino, Peoplemag, 7 Dec. 2022 Yet each year Democrats hold the defense of the country hostage to ever-higher spending for their domestic constituencies. The Editorial Board, WSJ, 30 Nov. 2022 The story follows an elite group of mercenaries who break into a family compound on Christmas Eve and hold everyone hostage. Rebecca Rubin, Variety, 30 Nov. 2022 The population of Kashmir, the Himalayan region disputed between the two countries, remains hostage to militarism and militancy from each side. Mujib Mashal,, 15 Aug. 2022 See More

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

Word History


Middle English hostage, ostage, borrowed from Anglo-French, "lodging, residence, custody of a person held as security against fulfillment of an agreement, the person so held," from hoste "guest, host" + -age -age — more at host entry 3

Note: The peculiar sense shift apparently arose from the Old French use of hostage in verbal phrases such as prendre en hostage "to take in residence, lodge" in reference to the lodging of a person held as surety; the import of hostage was then transferred to the status of such a person, and finally to the actual person.

First Known Use

13th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

Time Traveler
The first known use of hostage was in the 13th century

Dictionary Entries Near hostage

Cite this Entry

“Hostage.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 30 Jan. 2023.

Kids Definition


hos·​tage ˈhäs-tij How to pronounce hostage (audio)
: a person held captive as a pledge that promises will be kept or terms met by another

More from Merriam-Webster on hostage

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