See more synonyms for tense on Thesaurus.com
adjective, tens·er, tens·est.
  1. stretched tight, as a cord, fiber, etc.; drawn taut; rigid.
  2. in a state of mental or nervous strain; high-strung; taut: a tense person.
  3. characterized by a strain upon the nerves or feelings: a tense moment.
  4. Phonetics. pronounced with relatively tense tongue muscles; narrow.Compare lax(def 7).
verb (used with or without object), tensed, tens·ing.
  1. to make or become tense.

Origin of tense

1660–70; < Latin tēnsus past participle of tendere to stretch; see tend1
Related formstense·ly, adverbtense·ness, nounun·tens·ing, adjective


  1. a category of verbal inflection that serves chiefly to specify the time of the action or state expressed by the verb.
  2. a set of such categories or constructions in a particular language.
  3. the time, as past, present, or future, expressed by such a category.
  4. such categories or constructions, or their meanings collectively.

Origin of tense

1275–1325; Middle English tens < Middle French < Latin tempus time
Related formstense·less, adjectivetense·less·ly, adverbtense·less·ness, noun
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Examples from the Web for tense

Contemporary Examples of tense

Historical Examples of tense

  • Instead, only a tense horror that touched to the roots of emotion.

    Within the Law

    Marvin Dana

  • "I don't understand this," said Linda, white lipped and tense.

    Her Father's Daughter

    Gene Stratton-Porter

  • They stood before him palpitating like birds, poised, tense for flight.

    The Leopard Woman

    Stewart Edward White

  • How tense they both had been, how afraid of each other, how she had irritated him!


    Mr. and Mrs. Haldeman-Julius

  • The irregularity of the proceeding was unnoticed in the tense excitement.

    The Underdog

    F. Hopkinson Smith

British Dictionary definitions for tense


  1. stretched or stressed tightly; taut or rigid
  2. under mental or emotional strain
  3. producing mental or emotional straina tense day
  4. (of a speech sound) pronounced with considerable muscular effort and having relatively precise accuracy of articulation and considerable durationin English the vowel ( ) in ``beam'' is tense Compare lax (def. 4)
  1. (often foll by up) to make or become tense
Derived Formstensely, adverbtenseness, noun

Word Origin for tense

C17: from Latin tensus taut, from tendere to stretch


  1. grammar a category of the verb or verbal inflections, such as present, past, and future, that expresses the temporal relations between what is reported in a sentence and the time of its utterance
Derived Formstenseless, adjective

Word Origin for tense

C14: from Old French tens time, from Latin tempus
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 tense

"stretched tight," 1660s, from Latin tensus, past participle of tendere "to stretch" (see tenet). Sense of "in a state of nervous tension" is first recorded 1821.


"form of a verb showing time of an action or state," early 14c., tens "time," also "tense of a verb" (late 14c.), from Old French tens "time" (11c.), from Latin tempus (see temporal).


"to make tense," 1670s, from tense (adj.); intransitive sense of "to become tense" (often tense up) is recorded from 1946. Related: Tensed; tensing.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

tense in Culture


An inflectional (see inflection) form of verbs; it expresses the time at which the action described by the verb takes place. The major tenses are past, present, and future. The verb in “I sing” is in the present tense; in “I sang,” past tense; in “I will sing,” future tense. Other tenses are the present perfect (“I have sung”), the past perfect (“I had sung”), and the future perfect (“I will have sung”).

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.