Definition of stagger in English:



  • 1[no object] Walk or move unsteadily, as if about to fall.

    ‘he staggered to his feet, swaying a little’
    • ‘Once the curtain falls, you'll stagger outside feeling unbalanced, wondering what just happened and what it all means.’
    • ‘When he halted he appeared unsteady on his feet and staggered away from his car.’
    • ‘One of the officers described the two men, one of whom was Ryan, as ‘extremely unsteady on foot and staggering around’.’
    • ‘The couple ahead of him staggered as his weight fell on their backs.’
    • ‘Lexa staggered unsteadily for a moment before falling to one knee, eyes tightly closed in pain, biting her lip to keep from crying out again.’
    • ‘He grunted and staggered back before falling to the ground, dead.’
    • ‘No doubt about it, he swayed and staggered when he walked.’
    • ‘I cried out in pain, staggering back and falling on my back to the ground.’
    • ‘I staggered to my feet only to fall down again because of a strong wave.’
    • ‘He staggers to his feet and walks back the way he came.’
    • ‘Adam withdrew his hand and stepped back and clenched his fist and as Joe sprung at him he threw a punch that sent Joe staggering backwards and falling back into the dirt.’
    • ‘Once again the snow began to fall as he staggered onward, his future unknown, his past tortured, and his present uncertain.’
    • ‘Anthony staggered before falling backwards onto the floor.’
    • ‘Theorton rolled back over and staggered to his feet, much to the protest of his injuries.’
    • ‘They fall into taxis or stagger happily on down to the Nitelink bus and sing all the way home.’
    • ‘This looks great at first but when you see the actual number of people arriving at the totaljobs site the fall out is staggering.’
    • ‘Forcing herself to move, she staggered out of bed, stumbled and almost fell.’
    • ‘He'd be staggering and falling over and sometimes there was a gang of kids following and poking fun and laughing.’
    • ‘Fangs flashing, the cat leaped at Jim, who staggered back, falling into Banks' arms.’
    • ‘He staggered into Church Walk, collapsed, and was found by passers-by.’
    lurch, walk unsteadily, reel, sway, teeter, totter, stumble, wobble, move clumsily, weave, flounder, falter, pitch, roll
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    1. 1.1[with object and adverbial of direction]Continue in existence or operation uncertainly or precariously.
      ‘the treasury staggered from one crisis to the next’
      • ‘A succession of weak Prime Ministers and lack-lustre governments saw the country stagger from bad to worse.’
      • ‘Are their provisions for the protection of members, a safety net of sorts, should the investment bank stagger, or worse, collapse?’
      • ‘Global markets continue to stagger from one perceived crisis to the next.’
      • ‘And most importantly, letting the treaty stagger on along a Via Dolorosa of months of rejection is dangerous.’
      • ‘Asked what she thinks of the family, now she just says, ‘They just stagger from one crisis to another.’’
      • ‘Perhaps some feline bureaucrat has concluded that the best answer is to let the proposal stagger on and collapse, hoping to kill it with kindness?’
    2. 1.2archaic Waver in purpose; hesitate.
    3. 1.3archaic (of a blow) cause (someone) to walk or move unsteadily, as if about to fall.
      ‘the collision staggered her and she fell’
      • ‘Ryu's world exploded into stars as the blow connected with the side of his head, staggering him.’
      • ‘Kanyanta could have knocked out his opponent but Hara stood his ground even after being decked by hard blows to the head that only staggered him.’
      • ‘These rather horrified thoughts flew into my head at just about the moment that his own uppercut staggered me back and into the wall.’
      • ‘‘It struck me like a physical blow, a bullet to the heart, staggering me back, stunned,’ recalls Campbell.’
      • ‘Babaev was on the canvas twice in the third before a big right to the side of the head staggered him and prompted referee Richie Davies to call a halt.’
  • 2[with object] Astonish or deeply shock.

    ‘I was staggered to find it was six o'clock’
    ‘the staggering bills for maintenance and repair’
    • ‘Consumption of Merlot continues to stagger producers who struggle to cope with demand.’
    • ‘These concepts may continue to stagger the imagination, but they no longer defy it.’
    • ‘My parents' obvious aging, brought sharply before me instead of gradually as the last few years had passed, when I'd seen them every day, was a staggering shock.’
    • ‘Peter Francis, welfare rights manager at Barnsley Council, said the couple were staggered when they found out their weekly income had nearly doubled.’
    • ‘Residents were staggered when yellow lines were painted in a village near York - and then removed less than 48 hours later.’
    • ‘The sheer breadth of these studies can stagger the imagination, ranging across continents for specific forces of ecological and historical change.’
    • ‘I am staggered that our hard-earned council tax money goes towards paying their wages.’
    • ‘I am quite staggered at the way in which this bill is proceeding.’
    • ‘Third, though, is the most staggering number of all - 188 pounds, her weight when she began training five years ago.’
    • ‘The expansive gallery, which is housed in the top two floors of the Mori Tower, commands staggering views all the way to Mount Fuji.’
    • ‘It came, to me at least, as a staggering shock, sweeping away entirely, and for many days to come, the light-hearted and almost frivolous mood of the morning.’
    • ‘But we certainly were there to chronicle the missteps and the absolute staggering human tragedy.’
    • ‘In addition to the college's own teaching staff, chefs from Yorkshire's staggering array of restaurants offering international food will help to train students in the key skills.’
    • ‘He had, they insisted, slightly misquoted a staggering number of lines.’
    • ‘Waterman, 57, said he was ‘shocked, staggered and speechless’ by the award.’
    • ‘In fact, the diversity of corals and staggering formations of vast virgin forests and coral heads equal the best to be found anywhere in the world.’
    • ‘Wilson is determined to stun and stagger us with the knowledge of how little we know, how much we have only just begun to discover.’
    • ‘Through this absolutely staggering performance, Rule finds a way to show knowing and naïveté, familiarity and foreignness in almost every move.’
    • ‘Along the way, even those of us well versed in some of the more astonishing feats of animal cognition will be staggered.’
    • ‘Truly staggering amounts of money, from a variety of well-meaning friends, disappeared into his labyrinthine system of debts, leaving nothing to show.’
    astonished, astounded, amazed, stunned, thunderstruck, shattered, flabbergasted, nonplussed, taken aback, startled, surprised, bewildered, shocked, shell-shocked, shaken, stupefied, open-mouthed
    dumbfounded, dumbstruck, speechless, at a loss for words
    dazed, benumbed, confounded, disconcerted, shaken up
    bowled over, knocked for six, floored, flummoxed, caught on the hop, caught on the wrong foot, unable to believe one's ears, unable to believe one's eyes
    astonish, amaze, nonplus, startle, astound, surprise, bewilder, stun, flabbergast, shock, shake, stop someone in their tracks, stupefy, leave open-mouthed, take someone's breath away, dumbfound, daze, benumb, confound, disconcert, shatter, take aback, jolt, shake up
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  • 3[with object] Arrange (events, payments, hours, etc.) so that they do not occur at the same time.

    ‘meetings are staggered throughout the day’
    • ‘Fortunately, the Government had agreed to allow country folk to stagger such payments until things recovered.’
    • ‘Ministers have discussed staggering teaching hours to ease rush-hour road congestion.’
    • ‘They should also listen to the car radio for the latest travel information and stagger journeys to avoid the busiest travel times.’
    • ‘Also, stagger hours so that fewer people are in a building at the same time.’
    • ‘But he said: ‘People have now found alternative routes and staggered their journeys.’’
    • ‘This meant the switch-on had to be staggered as the load would have been too heavy for a simultaneous switch-on.’
    • ‘The election was staggered over the entire week.’
    • ‘There will be staggered starts, about five minutes apart, for each of the different classes.’
    • ‘Germany, like several other European nations, staggers the start of its school holidays in different areas.’
    • ‘The plan to relieve congestion by staggering working hours is sound but it would need the full co-operation of businesses large and small, which might prove difficult.’
    • ‘He also suggested staggered opening hours of entertainment venues was useful in controlling crowds.’
    • ‘Also, on hearing of the crush at the cattle camps, the Collector, B. Rajashekar, moved to stagger the fodder hours.’
    • ‘Though the costs paid to those in the network are exorbitant, it guarantees safety and allows payment to be staggered over time.’
    • ‘There was a healthy crowd who stayed to watch the event which was put on partly to stagger the crush of racegoers leaving the course after the last race.’
    • ‘Elections are staggered so the Board never is composed completely of new members.’
    • ‘The performance areas are contiguous and the two sectors stagger their performances so that spectators must run back and forth between the playing grounds to view the spectacle.’
    • ‘Voting hours are staggered across the country, meaning the impact will vary by region.’
    • ‘Most of these districts are staggering the days off instead of closing early, in order to avoid paying unemployment benefits to the teachers.’
    • ‘Mr Wahid said pension payments were staggered across the whole week, so not all pensioners were affected.’
    • ‘The curator, Anthony Gross, has staggered the screenings in order to show as many films as possible in two weeks.’
    time at intervals, overlap
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    1. 3.1Arrange (objects or parts) in a zigzag formation or so that they are not in line.
      ‘stagger the screws at each joint’
      • ‘In Block C especially the roof line is staggered.’
      • ‘The joints between the tabs must continue to be staggered.’
      • ‘The rear shocks have been staggered, one fixed forward from the axle, the other one tilting back.’
      • ‘It works by staggering the tags that surround your posts.’
      • ‘One method which helps feed fleece through the machine is to pin the seams alternately: stagger the pins on both sides of the seam to be sewn.’
      • ‘If you are running four rods, it is a good idea to cover a few different depths by staggering lines every 15 to 20 feet until you begin to hit fish.’
      • ‘Although strictly a two-storey property, the ground floor is staggered on three levels.’
      • ‘Begin planting as early as possible and stagger plantings every two weeks for a long season of blooms through September.’
      • ‘Continue stacking layers on top, staggering them toward the center so the last tulips stand upright.’
      alternate, step, arrange in a zigzag
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  • 1An unsteady walk or movement.

    ‘she walked with a stagger’
    • ‘Since I've moved house, my local is now the Drayton Court, just a short stagger from BNI Towers.’
    • ‘Then, as if in a dream, I lifted the broom off the sidewalk and saw the beetle stagger, right itself, and run off.’
    • ‘He has everything right - the stagger of the man walking, the drape of the man sitting, the accusatory point of the man's finger.’
    • ‘She was holding Leo's hand, and was leaning against him, so as he walked, he did it with a stagger.’
    • ‘It had felt like hours before the boy could hear the gears whining to a stop, and then the floor gave another stagger and went still.’
    • ‘It enjoys a quiet position near the centre of this pleasant village, just off the A19 Selby Road, little more than a hop, skip and a stagger away from the popular Greyhound pub.’
    • ‘Our foursome took a corner of the huge table of guests at a Korean restaurant on the Holloway Road, just a stagger from Highbury and Islington Station.’
    • ‘Next it was a stagger up Digbeth High Street to the Royal George.’
    • ‘Most of the mercenaries were dispersing, slowly walking, although for some it was more of a stagger, down the streets bragging to one another.’
    • ‘This really gives you one heck of an image and you can really strut around town with a stagger in your step.’
    • ‘He walked with a stoop and a rolling gait, the once upright take-on-the-world stance of the magnificent athlete now reduced to a shambling stagger.’
    • ‘Many would probably prefer to be only a short walk from the office in the morning and a drunken stagger back from the bars at night.’
    • ‘Robby walked out onto his lawn with just a trace of a stagger and jumped into his brilliantly, subtle performance.’
    • ‘She took off again, this time at more of a stagger than a run.’
    • ‘Our daily parade down the Croisette has turned from a saunter to a stagger.’
    • ‘Particularly outstanding is Jim Broadbent, who plays a sputtering drunk with easy stagger.’
    • ‘Spahr's call sign was ‘Dukes,’ and he was known to do an impersonation of John Wayne, complete with the stagger.’
    • ‘Once sure-footed, their step is now a confused, uncertain stagger, like a drunk slaloming from house to house in searching for his own front door.’
    • ‘There was a stagger rather than a swagger about Johnson in recent years.’
    • ‘Depp has also developed a strange walk, a kind of loopy stagger, which is attributed to the sunstroke he suffered as a castaway.’
  • 2An arrangement of things in a zigzag formation or so that they are not in line.

    • ‘This arrangement produces a systematic stagger between the adjacent lattices as shown in Fig.5, A.’
    • ‘Collagen fibrils are well known to be assemblies of parallel collagen molecules arranged with a longitudinal stagger according to the Hodge-Petruska scheme.’
    • ‘A consequence of this stagger on the x-ray diffraction pattern would be a marked enhancement of the 1.1 and 2.2 reflections.’
    1. 2.1The arrangement of the runners in lanes on a running track at the start of a race, so that the runner in the inside lane is positioned behind those in the next lane and so on until the outside lane.
      ‘by the back straight, he had overtaken the stagger’
      • ‘I felt surprisingly smooth and relaxed as I rounded the first turn and found myself making up the stagger on the runners on my outside.’
      • ‘I kept expecting someone to make up the stagger on me, and pull alongside, but it never happened.’


Late Middle English (as a verb): alteration of dialect stacker, from Old Norse stakra, frequentative of staka push, stagger. The noun dates from the late 16th century.