[ dih-stres ]
See synonyms for: distressdistresseddistressesdistressing on Thesaurus.com

  1. great pain, anxiety, or sorrow; acute physical or mental suffering; affliction; trouble: distress over his mother's illness.

  2. a state of extreme necessity or misfortune: After the stock market crash, he found himself in great financial distress.

  1. the state of a ship or airplane requiring immediate assistance, as when on fire in transit.

  2. that which causes pain, suffering, trouble, danger, etc.: His willful disobedience was a distress to his parents.

  3. liability or exposure to pain, suffering, trouble, etc.; danger: a damsel in distress.

  4. Law.

    • the legal seizure and detention of the goods of another as security or satisfaction for debt, etc.; the act of distraining.

    • 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.

  1. to compel by pain or force of circumstances: Her faithlessness distressed him into ending their marriage.

  2. 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.

Origin of distress

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; see origin at district,-ia

synonym study For distress

1. See sorrow.

Other words for distress

Opposites for distress

Other words from distress

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

Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023

How to use distress in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for distress


/ (dɪˈstrɛs) /

  1. to cause mental pain to; upset badly

  2. (usually passive) to subject to financial or other trouble

  1. to damage (esp furniture), as by scratching or denting it, in order to make it appear older than it is

  2. law a less common word for distrain

  3. archaic to compel

  1. mental pain; anguish

  2. the act of distressing or the state of being distressed

  1. physical or financial trouble

  2. in distress (of a ship, aircraft, etc) in dire need of help

  3. law

    • the seizure and holding of property as security for payment of or in satisfaction of a debt, claim, etc; distraint

    • the property thus seized

    • US (as modifier): distress merchandise

Origin of distress

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

Derived forms of distress

  • distressful, adjective
  • distressfully, adverb
  • distressfulness, noun
  • distressing, adjective, noun
  • distressingly, adverb

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