verb (used without object)
  1. to walk, move, or stand unsteadily.
  2. to falter or begin to give way, as in an argument or fight.
  3. to waver or begin to doubt, as in purpose or opinion; hesitate: After staggering momentarily, he recognized that he had to make a decision.
verb (used with object)
  1. to cause to reel, totter, or become unsteady: This load would stagger an elephant.
  2. to shock; render helpless with amazement or the like; astonish: The vastness of outer space staggers the mind.
  3. to cause to waver or falter: The news staggered her belief in the triumph of justice.
  4. to arrange in a zigzag order or manner on either side of a center: The captain staggered the troops along the road.
  5. to arrange otherwise than at the same time, especially in a series of alternating or continually overlapping intervals: They planned to stagger lunch hours so that the cafeteria would not be rushed.
  6. Aeronautics. to arrange (the wings of a biplane or the like) so that the entering edge of an upper wing is either in advance of or behind that of a corresponding lower wing.
  1. the act of staggering; a reeling or tottering movement or motion.
  2. a staggered order or arrangement.
  3. Aeronautics.
    1. a staggered arrangement of wings.
    2. the amount of staggering.
  4. staggers. (used with a singular verb) Veterinary Pathology.
    1. Also called blind staggers.acute selenium poisoning of livestock characterized by a staggering gait usually followed by respiratory failure and death.
    2. a condition of unknown cause, occurring in pregnant sheep, cattle, and other animals during or just following extended transport, characterized by a staggering gait and progressive paralysis.

Origin of stagger

1520–30; earlier stacker to reel, Middle English stakeren < Old Norse stakra to reel, equivalent to stak(a) to stagger + -ra frequentative suffix
Related formsstag·ger·er, nounout·stag·ger, verb (used with object)un·stag·gered, adjective

Synonyms for stagger

1. Stagger, reel, totter suggest an unsteady manner of walking. To stagger is successively to lose and regain one's equilibrium and the ability to maintain one's direction: to stagger with exhaustion, a heavy load, or intoxication. To reel is to sway dizzily and be in imminent danger of falling: to reel when faint with hunger. To totter is to move in a shaky, uncertain, faltering manner and suggests the immediate likelihood of falling from weakness or feebleness: An old man tottered along with a cane. 3. vacillate. 5. astound, confound, dumfound. 7. alternate. Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Examples from the Web for staggers

Contemporary Examples of staggers

Historical Examples of staggers

  • She said it was what she always used in Africa for bull-calves with the staggers.

    The Girl on the Boat

    Pelham Grenville Wodehouse

  • With that I gives him a push and Ernie staggers over to the curb.

    Torchy and Vee

    Sewell Ford

  • Before he is there, Skallagrim staggers to his side with a rush.

    Eric Brighteyes

    H. Rider Haggard

  • He staggers over to couch and sits upon it, groaning heavily.

    Semiramis and Other Plays

    Olive Tilford Dargan

  • Like one roused from some strange stupor, Frank staggers to his feet.

    The Diamond Coterie

    Lawrence L. Lynch

British Dictionary definitions for staggers


noun (functioning as singular or plural)
  1. a form of vertigo associated with decompression sickness
  2. Also called: blind staggers a disease of horses and some other domestic animals characterized by a swaying unsteady gait, caused by infection, toxins, or lesions of the central nervous system


  1. (usually intr) to walk or cause to walk unsteadily as if about to fall
  2. (tr) to astound or overwhelm, as with shockI am staggered by his ruthlessness
  3. (tr) to place or arrange in alternating or overlapping positions or time periods to prevent confusion or congestiona staggered junction; to stagger holidays
  4. (intr) to falter or hesitatehis courage staggered in the face of the battle
  5. (tr) to set (the wings of a biplane) so that the leading edge of one extends beyond that of the other
  1. the act or an instance of staggering
  2. a staggered arrangement on a biplane, etc
See also staggers
Derived Formsstaggerer, noun

Word Origin for stagger

C13 dialect stacker, from Old Norse staka to push
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 staggers



1520s, altered from stakeren (c.1300), from Old Norse stakra or Old Danish stagra, both "to push, stagger." Cognate with Dutch staggelen "to stagger," German staggeln "to stammer." Transitive sense of "bewilder, amaze" first recorded 1550s; that of "arrange in a zig-zag pattern" is from 1856. Related: Staggered; staggering.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper