Definition of ransom in English:



  • 1A sum of money demanded or paid for the release of a captive.

    ‘the kidnappers demanded a ransom’
    mass noun ‘he was demanding millions of pounds in ransom’
    • ‘The protection money and ransoms governments or insurgents extort from oil companies do not prolong the violence.’
    • ‘Kidnapping is an industry in Colombia, and the main businessmen in this morbid human trade are the guerrillas who use the ransoms to fund their war.’
    • ‘US officials have cautioned against ransoms, saying they encourage further kidnappings.’
    • ‘Dogs have been kidnapped - and ransoms paid - because of it.’
    • ‘Goods - particularly ransoms, dowries and spoils of war - were measured in gold.’
    • ‘Dogs are being snatched from families and ransoms of hundreds of euro then demanded for their safe return.’
    • ‘Since 1993, ransoms for western hostages have ballooned from $100,000 to more than $1 million.’
    • ‘A U.S. Navy official who tracks piracy issues says as long as shipping companies are willing to pay ransoms, than piracy will continue.’
    • ‘Seven-figure ransoms in used bills easily fit in a standard-size briefcase.’
    • ‘Then he would demand high ransoms from their parents.’
    • ‘In the last five years, at least 250 doctors were kidnapped; some were killed and others released after paying hefty ransoms.’
    • ‘The hostages were freed in batches several months later after several million dollars in ransoms were paid.’
    • ‘Also, the quarry itself seems to be a good place to hide victims while ransoms are demanded or to dispose of bodies if the ransom is not paid.’
    • ‘The militants have also kidnapped over 2,500 persons; many are still untraced even after payment of hefty ransoms.’
    • ‘All but one have now been released, but only after millions of dollars in ransoms were paid.’
    • ‘He went on to state that if ransoms were paid, no one should be in danger.’
    • ‘Graham was kidnapped a month after the lottery win and his kidnapper demanded a ransom.’
    • ‘He maintained that he had no money to pay the ransom demanded and that it was a case of mistaken identity.’
    • ‘Others are kidnapped and killed to extort lucrative ransoms from their families.’
    pay-off, payment, price
    View synonyms
    1. 1.1mass noun The holding or freeing of a captive in return for payment of a ransom.
      ‘the capture and ransom of the king’
      • ‘It was he who through his manipulation and deception engineered the capture and ransom of my beloved daughter.’
      • ‘Exchange or ransom was to be strictly according to rank, as specified in elaborate tables.’
      • ‘Only recently had she found out he had intended to capture her and take her away for ransom.’
      • ‘The objectification of women is further underscored by Bacon's seizing them as captives for ransom.’
      • ‘Disillusioned and discouraged, there was nothing to do, but stay in France and hope for another battle of Crécy or Poieters to come his way, and with it, a chance to capture a French noble for ransom.’
      release, freedom, setting free, deliverance, liberation, rescue, redemption, restoration
      View synonyms


[with object]
  • 1Obtain the release of (a captive) by paying a ransom.

    ‘the lord was captured in war and had to be ransomed’
    • ‘Captives, when they are not enslaved, are killed, or exchanged after peace has been concluded, or ransomed by their countrymen, or adopted into the tribe of the captors.’
    • ‘He repeatedly had to ransom prisoners taken in the course of Lombard raids, who would otherwise have been sold off as slaves.’
    • ‘Abducted by the Xiongnu hordes in 195, Cai Yan lived for twelve years in Mongolia as a chieftain's wife, bearing him two children before she was finally ransomed and returned home.’
    • ‘They surrendered and they were sentenced to death without a trial or chance to be ransomed.’
    • ‘In 1993, Colombia's government briefly made paying ransoms illegal, but there was an outcry from victims' relatives.’
    • ‘Eunice grew up with the Indians, who were Catholic and French-speaking, and scandalised her own people by refusing to be ransomed and marrying a Mohawk called Squirrel.’
    • ‘In response to such losses, villages under attack defended themselves, families ransomed captured relatives, and large African states attempted to prevent the export of their subjects as slaves.’
    • ‘While most of the captives were eventually ransomed, the raid stood as a clear reminder to all the colonies and to Britain as well of how dangerous was frontier life.’
    • ‘When she was eventually defeated by Edward IV, she was kept captive in various English castles until ransomed by Louis XI.’
    • ‘Despite the fact that his father was a landowner, town councillor, and clergyman we hear of no attempt to rescue or ransom the captive.’
    • ‘No amnesty may be granted to him, nor can he be ransomed.’
    • ‘Among the New Mexicans were a Ute raised in captivity by New Mexicans and a New Mexican raised in captivity among the Utes until his family were able to ransom him.’
    • ‘The Athenians suffered 1,000 casualties, the Thebans more; Athenian prisoners were released without payment, whereas Thebes had to ransom its men.’
    • ‘The government ransomed the Philadelphia's crew, and Tripoli promised not to attack American ships.’
    • ‘In August 1970 he was ransomed by the West German government, after which he continued his studies at Lübeck University.’
    • ‘It was common in Talmudic times for criminals to kidnap Jews for exorbitant ransoms, relying on the Jewish obligation to ransom captives.’
    • ‘Eventually Riley convinced a desert trader named Sidi Hamet to purchase him and four members of his crew and take them north - to a trading post where they could be ransomed and returned home.’
    • ‘He was captured and imprisoned by Duke Leopold before being handed over to the German emperor Henry VI, who ransomed him for the huge sum of 150,000 marks.’
    • ‘‘We will ransom them, of course,’ Lombard said.’
    • ‘The enemy was allowed, if they could, to ransom their enslaved women and children.’
    1. 1.1 Hold (a captive) and demand a ransom for their release.
      ‘an English force burnt the village and ransomed the inhabitants’
      • ‘Suspecting the car may be the one being ransomed, police stopped Ali Jaan before he got into the car.’
      • ‘This sort of thing was a common enough practice, for ransoming nobles was a profitable business.’
      • ‘Alternatively, prisoners of war might be ransomed, a more laborious yet more profitable process, since a standard ransom of 200 drachmas was a sum which few slaves would fetch.’
      • ‘So some pirates now take hostages instead of ships or cargo, and ransom them for tens of thousands of dollars.’
      • ‘It's just an incredibly natural film where Robert Shaw heads up a crew of four men who hijack a New York City subway train and ransom the passengers for a million dollars.’
    2. 1.2 Release (a captive) after receiving a ransom.
      ‘they were all ransomed and returned unharmed’
      • ‘Being ransomed to him would work out best for everyone.’
      • ‘The ransomed Sarah was delivered to the Sisters at La Chine and was baptized a Catholic at age fifteen.’
      obtain the release of, exchange for a ransom, buy the freedom of, release, free, deliver, liberate, rescue, redeem, restore to freedom
      View synonyms


  • hold someone to ransom

    • 1Hold someone captive and demand payment for their release.

      • ‘‘I think they are holding their child to ransom,’ she said.’
      • ‘A Yorkshire businessman tried to hold his own family to ransom after claiming he had been kidnapped from his kebab shop.’
      • ‘A group of shipwrecked passengers are captured and held for ransom by an African king, Talou VII.’
      • ‘They will kidnap his wealthy dad and hold him to ransom.’
      • ‘Some of them have recently made life difficult for the British servicemen there, by abducting 11 of their number and effectively holding them to ransom.’
      • ‘Earlier this month, another man was arrested for planning to kidnap a Barcelona player so he could hold him to ransom to pay off his business debt.’
      • ‘And people who are worth something are more likely to be kidnapped and held for large ransoms.’
      kidnap, carry off, seize, capture, run away with, run off with, make off with, spirit away, hold hostage, hold to ransom, hijack
      View synonyms
      1. 1.1Demand concessions from a person or organization by threatening damaging action.
        ‘the company would be powerful enough to hold governments to ransom’
        • ‘He also assured the president the organisation had no intention of holding the government to ransom with threats of violence.’
        • ‘‘Our hands are tied because insurance companies are holding us to ransom and the State Government needs to do something about it,’ Mr Giudice said.’
        • ‘In other words, they're going back on their previous deal, and once again threatening to hold the country to ransom.’
        • ‘Firstly it would free us from the oil barons who are holding us to ransom.’
        • ‘He also suggested the company had been held to ransom by its creditor banks.’
        • ‘Head of Finance Eamonn O Sullivan said he did not believe that a situation would arise where the council would be held to ransom by the health board.’
        • ‘The universities are held to ransom by the threat that a failure to boost state school intake will mean financial penalties.’
        • ‘Lord Jacobs, who has been campaigning for three years to get drugs prices down, suggests that pharmaceutical companies are holding the government to ransom by threatening to withdraw their research from the UK.’
        • ‘Both the Prime Minister and the Chancellor are clear - this government will not be held to ransom.’
        • ‘They effectively held the company to ransom by threatening ‘denial of service’ at peak times.’
        extort money from, threaten, hold to ransom, milk, bleed
        View synonyms
  • a king's ransom

    • A huge amount of money.

      ‘perfume which cost a king's ransom per ounce’
      • ‘It is hardly a king's ransom, but it could make all the difference.’
      • ‘Not a single person in our hospital makes a king's ransom.’
      • ‘All of a sudden Muriel got her handbag and went up to him and gave him a king's ransom.’
      • ‘While these industry titans get paid a king's ransom whether they succeed or fail, job security is a thing of the past.’
      • ‘A friend lost a king's ransom and asked me to look into the circumstances, and what I found was disturbing.’
      • ‘While showering Taylor with jewels worth a king's ransom, he also gave generously to friends such as Smith.’
      • ‘The President had no option but to dissolve the House and order a mid-term poll which cost the exchequer a king's ransom.’
      • ‘There have been reports both in this country and Australia suggesting that we were about to pay a king's ransom.’
      • ‘At the time, I thought we had paid a king's ransom for the place.’
      • ‘How did I acquire a king's ransom in paper currency?’
      a fortune, a small fortune, a huge amount, a vast sum, millions, billions
      View synonyms


Middle English: from Old French ransoun (noun), ransouner (verb), from Latin redemptio(n-) ‘ransoming, releasing’ (see redemption). Early use also occurred in theological contexts expressing ‘deliverance’ and ‘atonement’.