• synonyms


[self-di-fens, self-]
  1. the act of defending one's person when physically attacked, as by countering blows or overcoming an assailant: the art of self-defense.
  2. a claim or plea that the use of force or injuring or killing another was necessary in defending one's own person from physical attack: He shot the man who was trying to stab him and pleaded self-defense at the murder trial.
  3. an act or instance of defending or protecting one's own interests, property, ideas, etc., as by argument or strategy.
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Also especially British, self-de·fence.

Origin of self-defense

First recorded in 1645–55
Related formsself-de·fen·sive, adjective
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Examples from the Web for self-defence

Historical Examples

  • I am never successful in my little attempts at deception, even in self-defence.

    The Fortune Hunter

    Louis Joseph Vance

  • Good customs are universal and varied, like native chivalry and self-defence.

    Alarms and Discursions

    G. K. Chesterton

  • In what other manner could we ever study the art of self-defence?



  • This may have been because of a desire to please me, or in self-defence; I am inclined to think the latter.

    Kent Knowles: Quahaug

    Joseph C. Lincoln

  • But if it was done in self-defence it was no crime, and you must not and shall not suffer.

British Dictionary definitions for self-defence


  1. the act of defending oneself, one's actions, ideas, etc
  2. boxing as a means of defending the person (esp in the phrase noble art of self-defence)
  3. law the right to defend one's person, family, or property against attack or threat of attack by the use of no more force than is reasonable
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Derived Formsself-defensive, adjective
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

Word Origin and History for self-defence



1650s, "act of defending oneself," first attested in Hobbes, from self- + defense. In sports sense, first with reference to fencing (1728), then boxing (1820s).

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Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper