View synonyms for distress


[ dih-stres ]


  1. great pain, anxiety, or sorrow; acute physical or mental suffering; affliction; trouble:

    distress over his mother's illness.

    Synonyms: tribulation, adversity, anguish, agony

    Antonyms: comfort

  2. a state of extreme necessity or misfortune:

    After the stock market crash, he found himself in great financial distress.

    Synonyms: destitution, need

  3. the state of a ship or airplane requiring immediate assistance, as when on fire in transit.
  4. that which causes pain, suffering, trouble, danger, etc.:

    His willful disobedience was a distress to his parents.

  5. liability or exposure to pain, suffering, trouble, etc.; danger:

    a damsel in distress.

  6. Law.
    1. the legal seizure and detention of the goods of another as security or satisfaction for debt, etc.; the act of distraining.
    2. the thing seized in distraining.


  1. afflicted with or suffering distress:

    distress livestock; distress wheat.

  2. caused by or indicative of distress or hardship:

    distress prices; distress borrowing.

verb (used with object)

  1. to afflict with great pain, anxiety, or sorrow; trouble; worry; bother:

    It distresses Grandpa when you bring up the war.

  2. to subject to pressure, stress, or strain; embarrass or exhaust by strain:

    to be distressed by excessive work.

  3. to compel by pain or force of circumstances:

    Her faithlessness distressed him into ending their marriage.

  4. to dent, scratch, or stain (furniture, lumber, or the like) so as to give an appearance of age:

    She used an old bicycle chain to distress the surface of the table before applying a deep stain.


/ dɪˈstrɛs /


  1. to cause mental pain to; upset badly
  2. usually passive to subject to financial or other trouble
  3. to damage (esp furniture), as by scratching or denting it, in order to make it appear older than it is
  4. law a less common word for distrain
  5. archaic.
    to compel


  1. mental pain; anguish
  2. the act of distressing or the state of being distressed
  3. physical or financial trouble
  4. in distress
    (of a ship, aircraft, etc) in dire need of help
  5. law
    1. the seizure and holding of property as security for payment of or in satisfaction of a debt, claim, etc; distraint
    2. the property thus seized
    3. ( as modifier )

      distress merchandise

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Derived Forms

  • disˈtressingly, adverb
  • disˈtressing, adjectivenoun
  • disˈtressfully, adverb
  • disˈtressful, adjective
  • disˈtressfulness, noun

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Other Words From

  • dis·tress·ing·ly adverb
  • pre·dis·tress noun verb (used with object)

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Word History and Origins

Origin of distress1

First recorded in 1250–1300; Middle English noun destresse, distresse, from Anglo-French distresse, destresse, Old French, from unattested Vulgar Latin districtia, equivalent to Latin district(us) “exercise of justice” + noun suffix -ia; the verb developed from the noun; district, -ia

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Word History and Origins

Origin of distress1

C13: from Old French destresse distress, via Vulgar Latin, from Latin districtus divided in mind; see distrain

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Synonym Study

See sorrow.

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Example Sentences

Their failure to act was unacceptable and affected hundreds of thousands of people, which may have caused some anxiety and distress as a result.

Sometimes it’s even a sign that the tree is in distress, Aiello says.

It’s addressing the economic distress that I’ve seen growing up in very disenfranchised neighborhoods in Minneapolis.

From Ozy

Carrying a whistle in your survival kit can signal your distress to others, day or night, as long as you have breath to blow it.

Stay put, build a camp, signal your distress and wait for help.

Surely all this graphic talk of gastrointestinal distress is making you queasy.

After all, what says Christmas more than obligations, gastrointestinal distress, and insane dining companions?

I inherited the Arnold Family Thunder ThighsTM, which was a source of frequent teasing and distress for me as a child.

Not only, in the rarest of cases, where there a female lead in a blockbuster action movie, but the damsel in distress was a dude.

This workforce is being legalized at a time of unusual economic distress for the working class.

The look of distress had vanished, and his sincere eyes seemed to shine again with courage and with strength.

Her face wore a look of distress, almost of alarm; she kept her place, but her eyes gave Bernard a mute welcome.

Finally, his predicament became so awkward that an expression of distress crept into his face.

In fact, in two places some of our men cried out in distress that we were all lost.

It seemed quite the forlornest hope I had ever heard of, but Jack's distress was so acute that I hadn't the heart to refuse.





distraughtdistress call