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[tred] /trɛd/
verb (used without object), trod, trodden or trod, treading.
to set down the foot or feet in walking; step; walk.
to step, walk, or trample so as to press, crush, or injure something (usually followed by on or upon):
to tread on a person's foot.
(of a male bird) to copulate.
verb (used with object), trod, trodden or trod, treading.
to step or walk on, about, in, or along.
to trample or crush underfoot.
to form by the action of walking or trampling:
to tread a path.
to treat with disdainful harshness or cruelty; crush; oppress.
to perform by walking or dancing:
to tread a measure.
(of a male bird) to copulate with (a female bird).
the action of treading, stepping, or walking.
the sound of footsteps.
manner of treading or walking.
a single step as in walking.
any of various things or parts on which a person or thing treads, stands, or moves.
the part of the under surface of the foot or of a shoe that touches the ground.
the horizontal upper surface of a step in a stair, on which the foot is placed.
the part of a wheel, tire, or runner that bears on the road, rail, etc.
the pattern raised on or cut into the face of a rubber tire.
Also, caterpillar tread. a metal tread on which a Caterpillar-style vehicle moves.
Railroads. that part of a rail in contact with the treads of wheels.
tread on someone's toes / corns, to offend or irritate someone.
tread the boards, to act on the stage, especially professionally:
He recalled the days when he had trod the boards.
tread water,
  1. Swimming. to maintain the body erect in the water with the head above the surface usually by a pumping up-and-down movement of the legs and sometimes the arms.
  2. Slang. to make efforts that maintain but do not further one's status, progress, or performance:
    He's just treading water here until he can find another job.
Origin of tread
before 900; (v.) Middle English treden, Old English tredan; cognate with Old Frisian treda, Old Saxon tredan, Dutch treden, German treten; akin to Old Norse trotha, Gothic trudan; (noun) Middle English tred footprint, derivative of the v.
Related forms
treader, noun
overtread, noun
subtread, noun Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018.
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Examples from the Web for tread water
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • Do not exhaust yourself; keep your hands quiet and tread water.

    Owen Hartley; or, Ups and Downs William H. G. Kingston
  • His boots, too, were acting as a drag, yet there was no time to tread water and kick them off.

    A Lively Bit of the Front Percy F. Westerman
  • At first it was easy to tread water: the salt brine upheld him.

    The Lady of Fort St. John

    Mary Hartwell Catherwood
  • Some one says: "To tread water is like running up-stairs rapidly."

    On the Trail Lina Beard and Adelia Belle Beard
  • He began to tread water, lifting his mask, then rinsing it because it had fogged a little.

    The Wailing Octopus Harold Leland Goodwin
  • Then, as St. John turned partly around, he caught him under the arms and began to tread water.

    Young Captain Jack

    Horatio Alger and Arthur M. Winfield
  • She could stay below as long as Ole; she could dive, and tread water, and swim backwards.

  • And Dick had sense enough to take the advice, and tread water quietly till the boat should come.

    Follow My leader Talbot Baines Reed
  • He began to tread water while he tried to lift his head and gaze across the waves.

    Polly's Business Venture

    Lillian Elizabeth Roy
British Dictionary definitions for tread water


verb treads, treading, trod, trodden, trod
to walk or trample in, on, over, or across (something)
when intr, foll by on. to crush or squash by or as if by treading: to tread grapes, to tread on a spider
(intransitive) sometimes foll by on. to subdue or repress, as by doing injury (to): to tread on one's inferiors
(transitive) to do by walking or dancing: to tread a measure
(transitive) (of a male bird) to copulate with (a female bird)
tread lightly, to proceed with delicacy or tact
tread on someone's toes, to offend or insult someone, esp by infringing on his sphere of action, etc
tread water, to stay afloat in an upright position by moving the legs in a walking motion
a manner or style of walking, dancing, etc: a light tread
the act of treading
the top surface of a step in a staircase
the outer part of a tyre or wheel that makes contact with the road, esp the grooved surface of a pneumatic tyre
the part of a rail that wheels touch
the part of a shoe that is generally in contact with the ground
(vet science) an injury to a horse's foot caused by the opposite foot, or the foot of another horse
a rare word for footprint
Derived Forms
treader, noun
Word Origin
Old English tredan; related to Old Norse trotha , Old High German tretan, Swedish träda
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 tread water



Old English tredan (class V strong verb; past tense træd, past participle treden), from Proto-Germanic *tredanan (cf. Old Frisian treda, Middle Dutch treden, Old High German tretan, German treten, Gothic trudan, Old Norse troða).



early 13c., from tread (v.); in reference to automobile tires, it is recorded from 1906.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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Idioms and Phrases with tread water

tread water

Expend effort that maintains one's status but does not make much progress toward a goal, as in He was just treading water from paycheck to paycheck. This idiom alludes to the term's literal meaning, that is, “keep one's head above water by remaining upright and pumping the legs.”
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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