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[tens] /tɛns/
adjective, tenser, tensest.
stretched tight, as a cord, fiber, etc.; drawn taut; rigid.
in a state of mental or nervous strain; high-strung; taut:
a tense person.
characterized by a strain upon the nerves or feelings:
a tense moment.
Phonetics. pronounced with relatively tense tongue muscles; narrow.
Compare lax (def 7).
verb (used with or without object), tensed, tensing.
to make or become tense.
Origin of tense1
1660-70; < Latin tēnsus past participle of tendere to stretch; see tend1
Related forms
tensely, adverb
tenseness, noun
untensing, adjective Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018.
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Examples from the Web for tenser
Historical Examples
  • The same old Joe, but tenser now, strained almost to the breaking point.

    The Harbor Ernest Poole
  • It is difficult to say whether or no tenser is a confusion of censer.

  • But his frown did not relax, and the muscles of his mouth grew, if anything, tenser.

    Poison Island Arthur Thomas Quiller-Couch (Q)
  • It was here that he entertained favored guests when in relaxation, or hetcheled contumacious officers when in tenser moods.

    Old Times on the Upper Mississippi George Byron Merrick
  • Where so long I have heard the prattling and moaning of the wind, what means this tenser, far-piercing sound?

  • The most usual name for them is however censer, chencer, tenser, and variations of these.

  • It pullulates with an equal energy, but this energy is tenser and far less turgid.


    Horace Barnett Samuel
  • Mrs. Captain Godfrey Peasley relieved the situation; she had a habit of relieving situations—when she did not make them tenser.

    Fair Harbor

    Joseph Crosby Lincoln
  • The atmosphere of the room became tenser and tenser; the Kaiser leaned back against the door with his arms folded.

    The World Peril of 1910 George Griffith
  • Then, as really her time drew near, a tenser game was played, by which Lily was to appear when his left foot was advanced.

    Sinister Street, vol. 1 Compton Mackenzie
British Dictionary definitions for tenser


stretched or stressed tightly; taut or rigid
under mental or emotional strain
producing mental or emotional strain: a tense day
(of a speech sound) pronounced with considerable muscular effort and having relatively precise accuracy of articulation and considerable duration: in English the vowel () in ``beam'' is tense Compare lax (sense 4)
(often foll by up) to make or become tense
Derived Forms
tensely, adverb
tenseness, noun
Word Origin
C17: from Latin tensus taut, from tendere to stretch


(grammar) a category of the verb or verbal inflections, such as present, past, and future, that expresses the temporal relations between what is reported in a sentence and the time of its utterance
Derived Forms
tenseless, adjective
Word Origin
C14: from Old French tens time, from Latin tempus
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for tenser



"to make tense," 1670s, from tense (adj.); intransitive sense of "to become tense" (often tense up) is recorded from 1946. Related: Tensed; tensing.



"stretched tight," 1660s, from Latin tensus, past participle of tendere "to stretch" (see tenet). Sense of "in a state of nervous tension" is first recorded 1821.



"form of a verb showing time of an action or state," early 14c., tens "time," also "tense of a verb" (late 14c.), from Old French tens "time" (11c.), from Latin tempus (see temporal).

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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tenser in Culture

tense definition

An inflectional (see inflection) form of verbs; it expresses the time at which the action described by the verb takes place. The major tenses are past, present, and future. The verb in “I sing” is in the present tense; in “I sang,” past tense; in “I will sing,” future tense. Other tenses are the present perfect (“I have sung”), the past perfect (“I had sung”), and the future perfect (“I will have sung”).

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition
Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
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