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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).
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verb (used with or without object), tensed, tens·ing.
  1. to make or become tense.
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Origin of tense1

1660–70; < Latin tēnsus past participle of tendere to stretch; see tend1
Related formstense·ly, adverbtense·ness, nounun·tens·ing, adjective
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Examples from the Web for tensely

Contemporary Examples

Historical Examples

  • Trembling with excitement and fear I tensely waited the coming of the visitor.

  • Her thumb 272 rested on the hammer and she stood still, tensely waiting.

    Louisiana Lou

    William West Winter

  • On the evening I dropped in to see him, he was tensely nervous.

    Secret Armies

    John L. Spivak

  • Moya faced them tensely, a slim wraith of a girl with dark eyes that blazed.

    The Highgrader

    William MacLeod Raine

  • Tensely the Terran waited for some reaction from the wolverines.

    Storm Over Warlock

    Andre Norton

British Dictionary definitions for tensely


  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)
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  1. (often foll by up) to make or become tense
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Derived Formstensely, adverbtenseness, noun

Word Origin

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
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Derived Formstenseless, adjective

Word Origin

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 tensely



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

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"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.

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"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).

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Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

tensely 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”).

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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.