verb (used with object), star·tled, star·tling.

to disturb or agitate suddenly as by surprise or alarm.
to cause to start involuntarily, by or as by a sudden shock.

verb (used without object), star·tled, star·tling.

to start involuntarily, as from a shock of surprise or alarm.


a sudden shock of surprise, alarm, or the like.
something that startles.

Origin of startle

before 1100; Middle English stertlen to rush, caper, equivalent to stert(en) to start + -(e)len -le, or continuing Old English steartlian to kick, struggle
Related formsstar·tle·ment, nounstar·tler, nounout·star·tle, verb (used with object), out·star·tled, out·star·tling.un·star·tled, adjective

Synonyms for startle Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for startled

Contemporary Examples of startled

Historical Examples of startled

  • She was studying her material; and it must be confessed that they startled her not a little.

  • Yet there had been a look on her face when she saw those two which startled and hurt him.

  • She had not seen the boy for two months, and the change in him startled her.


    Mary Roberts Rinehart

  • Out of the tail of his eye he could see that the rest of the Council were startled.

    The Trail Book

    Mary Austin

  • This outburst from Mrs. Porter startled the girl; it was so passionate, so vehement.


    W. A. Fraser

British Dictionary definitions for startled



to be or cause to be surprised or frightened, esp so as to start involuntarily
Derived Formsstartler, noun

Word Origin for startle

Old English steartlian to stumble; related to Middle High German starzen to strut, Norwegian sterta to strain oneself
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 startled



c.1300, "run to and fro," frequentative of sterten (see start (v.)). Sense of "move suddenly in surprise or fear" first recorded 1520s. Transitive meaning "frighten suddenly" is from 1590s. The word retains more of the original meaning of start (v.). Related: Startled; startling.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper