• synonyms


[stif-uh n]
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verb (used with object)
  1. to make stiff.
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verb (used without object)
  1. to become stiff.
  2. to become suddenly tense, rigid, or taut, as in bracing oneself for or drawing back from shock, fear, or displeasure: He stiffened, expecting to hear the worst.
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Origin of stiffen

First recorded in 1490–1500; stiff + -en1
Related formso·ver·stiff·en, verbun·stiff·ened, adjective
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Related Words

strengthen, reinforce, solidify, stabilize, thicken, set, freeze, clot, prop, petrify, jell, inspissate, fix, condense, ossify, tauten, congeal, precipitate, inflate, anneal

Examples from the Web for stiffen

Contemporary Examples

Historical Examples

  • Even as he held it up for all of them to see, his limbs began to jerk and stiffen.

    The Trail Book

    Mary Austin

  • But they seemed to her to stiffen, against her will, and her embrace was surely mechanical.

    A Spirit in Prison

    Robert Hichens

  • And all the time his eyes were upon his wife, and I saw her stiffen as if she had been struck.

    The Strolling Saint

    Raphael Sabatini

  • White and tense, her hands clenched, Rosamund seemed to stiffen before him.

    The Sea-Hawk

    Raphael Sabatini

  • Little by little his slack body began to stiffen; little by little he raised himself.

British Dictionary definitions for stiffen


  1. to make or become stiff or stiffer
  2. (intr) to become suddenly tense or unyielding
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Derived Formsstiffener, noun
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 stiffen


1590s, from stiff (adj.) + -en (1). Related: Stiffened; stiffening.

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Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper