[ ran-suhm ]
/ ˈræn səm /
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the redemption of a prisoner or kidnapped person, of captured goods, etc., for a price.
the sum or price paid or demanded.
a means of deliverance or rescue from punishment for sin, especially the payment of a redemptive fine.
verb (used with object)
to redeem from captivity, bondage, detention, etc., by paying a demanded price.
to release or restore on receipt of a ransom.
to deliver or redeem from punishment for sin.
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Origin of ransom

First recorded in 1150–1200; Middle English noun ranso(u)n, rançoun, from Old French rançon, reançon from Late Latin redēmptiōn- (stem of redēmptiō ) redemption; verb derivative of the noun

synonym study for ransom

4. See redeem.


ran·som·er, nounun·ran·somed, adjective

Other definitions for ransom (2 of 2)

[ ran-suhm ]
/ ˈræn səm /

John Crowe [kroh], /kroʊ/, 1888–1974, U.S. poet, critic, and teacher.
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023


What does ransom mean?

A ransom is the money or goods demanded to be paid in exchange for the release of a captured or kidnapped person or piece of property.

Ransom also commonly refers to the amount of money that the captor demands.

It can also refer to such an exchange or the act of releasing a person or property for a price, as in The duke’s ransom depended on his wife gathering all the money demanded. 

Ransom can also be used as a verb meaning to get a person or property released by paying a price, as in I had to ransom my toy from the bully for $10.

It can also mean to release a captive after receiving a ransom, as in Each prisoner was ransomed for $500. 

Less commonly, ransom can be used in a religious context to mean to redeem or deliver someone from punishment for sin, as Christians believe Jesus did.

A person who holds someone in exchange for a ransom is called a ransomer.

Ransomware is software that is illegally put on a computer and prevents users from accessing their data without paying a ransom.

Example: The kidnapper demanded a hefty ransom before he released the princess to her father.

Where does ransom come from?

The first records of the word ransom come from the 1100s. It ultimately comes from the Late Latin redēmptiō, meaning “redemption.” The verb ransom is derived from the noun usage.

Ransom is used in the idiom king’s ransom, which means a large amount of money or valuables. As you might guess, a captured king could be ransomed for a large amount of money. In fact, the German emperor Henry VI ransomed King Richard “the Lionheart” I of England in 1193 for 150,000 German marks, a huge amount of money at that time.

Today, the word ransom is often used to refer to a price that someone is demanding to safely release their prisoner or captured property. Property can include data found in a computer system, such as a person’s bank account number, passwords, or government ID number. Software that allows data to be taken for ransom is called ransomware.

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What are some other forms related to ransom?

  • ransomer (noun)
  • unransomed (adjective)

What are some words that share a root or word element with ransom

What are some words that often get used in discussing ransom?

How is ransom used in real life?

Ransom is associated with kidnapping, hijacking, and data theft, but it can also be used in figurative ways.



Try using ransom!

Is ransom used correctly in the following sentence?

The kidnappers ransomed the prisoners back to their families after receiving a large payment.

How to use ransom in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for ransom (1 of 2)

/ (ˈrænsəm) /

verb (tr)

Derived forms of ransom

ransomer, noun

Word Origin for ransom

C14: from Old French ransoun, from Latin redemptiō a buying back, redemption

British Dictionary definitions for ransom (2 of 2)

/ (ˈrænsəm) /

John Crowe . 1888–1974, US poet and critic
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

Other Idioms and Phrases with ransom


see king's ransom.

The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.