[ tens ]
/ tɛns /
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See synonyms for: tense / tensed / tenses / tensing on Thesaurus.com

adjective, tens·er, tens·est.

stretched tight, as a cord, fiber, etc.; drawn taut; rigid.
in a state of mental or nervous strain; high-strung; taut: a tense person.
characterized by a strain upon the nerves or feelings: a tense moment.
Phonetics. pronounced with relatively tense tongue muscles; narrow. Compare lax1 (def. 7).

verb (used with or without object), tensed, tens·ing.

to make or become tense.



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Origin of tense

First recorded in 1660–70; from Latin tēnsus, past participle of tendere “to stretch”; see tend1
tensely, adverbtenseness, nounun·tens·ing, adjective

Definition for tense (2 of 2)

[ tens ]
/ tɛns /


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

Origin of tense

1275–1325; Middle English tens<Middle French <Latin tempus time
tenseless, adjectivetense·less·ly, adverbtense·less·ness, noun
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2021

British Dictionary definitions for tense (1 of 2)

/ (tɛns) /


stretched or stressed tightly; taut or rigid
under mental or emotional strain
producing mental or emotional straina tense day
(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)


(often foll by up) to make or become tense
tensely, adverbtenseness, noun
C17: from Latin tensus taut, from tendere to stretch

British Dictionary definitions for tense (2 of 2)

/ (tɛns) /


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
tenseless, adjective
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

Cultural definitions for tense


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.
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