View synonyms for nightmare


[ nahyt-mair ]


  1. a terrifying dream in which the dreamer experiences feelings of helplessness, extreme anxiety, sorrow, etc.

    Synonyms: phantasmagoria

  2. a condition, thought, or experience suggestive of a nightmare:

    the nightmare of his years in prison.

  3. (formerly) a monster or evil spirit believed to oppress persons during sleep.


/ ˈnaɪtˌmɛə /


  1. a terrifying or deeply distressing dream
    1. an event or condition resembling a terrifying dream

      the nightmare of shipwreck

    2. ( as modifier )

      a nightmare drive

  2. a thing that is feared
  3. (formerly) an evil spirit supposed to harass or suffocate sleeping people

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Derived Forms

  • ˈnightˌmarishness, noun
  • ˈnightˌmarishly, adverb
  • ˈnightˌmarish, adjective

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Word History and Origins

Origin of nightmare1

Middle English word dating back to 1250–1300; night, mare 2

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Word History and Origins

Origin of nightmare1

C13 (meaning: incubus; C16: bad dream): from night + Old English mare, mære evil spirit, from Germanic; compare Old Norse mara incubus, Polish zmora, French cauchemar nightmare

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Synonym Study

See dream.

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Example Sentences

This is a nightmare for the thief, because they have to decide how much time and risk they want to devote to the job.

Burleson is widely credited with establishing the “zone system” to determine mail costs, while DeJoy has been praised for his logistics-oriented approach by those who see the postal service as a money-losing bureaucratic nightmare.

From Ozy

We gave them a bunch of different scenarios and asked them to weight which were most likely to bring about their nightmares.

The league denied Delle Donne a high-risk exemption, despite her Lyme disease, which triggered a PR nightmare for the WNBA, but the Mystics said this week she will still be paid her full salary.

The latest indication came from county supervisor candidate Nora Vargas, who posted on Facebook Thursday a nightmare story of her attempts to get tested for the virus due to exposure she experienced in the course of her campaign.

You know, I feel the same way about that that I do about The Nightmare Before Christmas.

Uber responded to the PR nightmare by reversing the surge, refunding those affected, and doling out free rides.

For Jane Doe though, she was heading into yet another nightmare.

The path may be there, but current travelers to Sudan face a bureaucratic nightmare of permits and road blocks.

His lone stable was a girl from Newport News, Virginia, who had already escaped one nightmare.

As men fixed in the grip of nightmare, we were powerless—unable to do anything but wait.

And the nightmare clutch laid hold upon his heart with giant pincers.

But a horrible thing that had happened to him, had awakened in him a lonely nightmare of restlessness.

It was a kind of nightmare, and her heart beat fast as the bids came rapidly,—sometimes on Howard's side and sometimes on Jack's.

They awoke on the morrow, their minds still distraught and deeming the thing was but a nightmare.


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More About Nightmare

Where does the word nightmare come from?

Nightmares are scary and unpleasant. But you can rest easy knowing that the fascinating origin of the word nightmare makes it clear humans have been having them for hundreds of years.

In Old English, a mare was a kind of evil or cursed spirit. Mares appear in all kinds of folklore, including German and Slavic stories. Mares were said to ride on people’s chests at night, causing suffocation and bad dreams. These mares, often female, were known as nightmares (because they came at night).

By the 16th century, the word nightmare came to refer to a sensation of suffocation or anxiety during sleep, and now simply a bad dream. While nightmares are terrifying, there is good news: at least most of us don’t worry about evil spirits trying to suffocate us in our sleep anymore.

The roots of these other words may get a rise—of laughter or surprise—out of you. Run on over to our roundup of them at “Weird Word Origins That Will Make Your Family Laugh.”

Did you know … ?

Nightmares can have many causes—but evil spirits aren’t one of them, despite what Freddy Krueger might say. Stress, eating before bed, medication side effects, and sleep disorders can all cause bad dreams. While children are more likely to have them, half of all adults also report regularly having nightmares.

In fact, nightmares are so familiar (and frightening) to people that the word nightmare has been metaphorically extended to any terrible thought, experience, or situation that resembles a nightmare (e.g., Being lost at sea was a living nightmare).

Worth noting: A night terror is a sudden feeling of extreme fear that awakens a sleeping person, usually during slow-wave sleep, but it is not associated with a dream or nightmare.

The -mare in nightmare doesn’t have anything to do with a mare as in an adult female horse. This homophony hasn’t stopped the card game Magic: The Gathering and other works of pop culture from concocting fictional demonic horse characters that terrify people at night and which go by punny names like Nightmare.