verb (used with object)

to initiate or precipitate (a chain of events, scientific reaction, psychological process, etc.): Their small protest triggered a mass demonstration.
to fire or explode (a gun, missile, etc.) by pulling a trigger or releasing a triggering device: He accidentally triggered his rifle.

verb (used without object)

to release a trigger.
to become active; activate.


    quick on the trigger, Informal. quick to act or respond; impetuous; alert.

Origin of trigger

1615–25; earlier tricker < Dutch trekker, equivalent to trekk(en) to pull + -er -er1
Related formsun·trig·gered, adjective Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Related Words for trigger

prompt, start, produce, spark, provoke, cause, generate, elicit, activate

Examples from the Web for trigger

Contemporary Examples of trigger

Historical Examples of trigger

  • Had his fist in my face before I could get my finger on the trigger.

  • He had missed, and when the sergeant was ready to pull the trigger also Slade was gone.

    The Rock of Chickamauga

    Joseph A. Altsheler

  • He pressed the trigger at just the right time as the buck was rising in the air.

  • But he did not shoot, though one could see how his fingers must itch for the feel of the trigger.

    Good Indian

    B. M. Bower

  • Put up your sword, for the trigger falls easy, and my finger is a twitching.'

    Micah Clarke

    Arthur Conan Doyle

British Dictionary definitions for trigger



a small projecting lever that activates the firing mechanism of a firearm
machinery a device that releases a spring-loaded mechanism or a similar arrangement
any event that sets a course of action in motion

verb (tr)

(usually foll by off) to give rise (to); set off
to fire or set in motion by or as by pulling a trigger
Derived Formstriggered, adjectivetriggerless, adjective

Word Origin for trigger

C17 tricker, from Dutch trekker, from trekken to pull; see trek
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 trigger

1650s, earlier tricker (1620s), from Dutch trekker "trigger," from trekken "to pull" (see trek). Tricker was the usual form in English until c.1750. Trigger-happy is attested from 1943.


1930, from trigger (n.). Related: Triggered; triggering.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

Idioms and Phrases with trigger


In addition to the idiom beginning with trigger

  • trigger happy

also see:

  • quick on the draw (trigger)
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.