Definition of hostage in US English:



  • A person seized or held as security for the fulfillment of a condition.

    ‘the kidnapper had instructed the hostage's family to drop the ransom at noon’
    • ‘Ten hostages have been released unharmed but five remain unaccounted for.’
    • ‘You have a known murderer, out from prison on license, who is holding hostages in a house.’
    • ‘Seventeen hostages remain in the jungle where they have been held captive for two and a half months.’
    • ‘He said they would free all the hostages if police released the rest of the detained protesters.’
    • ‘These rules made sense in an era when hijackers demanded money or held hostages for political purposes.’
    • ‘Japan can breathe a momentary sigh of relief after the release of three Japanese hostages.’
    • ‘Many of the 349 hostages now being treated in hospital are in a serious condition and could yet die.’
    • ‘Finally the vehicle was abandoned and the hostages were made to walk on foot.’
    • ‘Scores of hostages from two dozen countries have been seized in the last four months.’
    • ‘One of the four Italian hostages who worked for a security company was killed.’
    • ‘Yes, we cannot really impose on him a condition to leave his family behind as hostages.’
    • ‘Most of the child hostages who were seized by terrorists were reported to be alive.’
    • ‘The three hostages were rescued, although one is in serious condition in hospital.’
    • ‘This was meant to pave the way for talks aimed at gaining the release of the hostages.’
    • ‘Let me make clear that I join every other civilized person in hoping the hostages are released unharmed.’
    • ‘The blasts also triggered chaos inside the building, which a number of hostages seized upon as their cue to escape.’
    • ‘The gang took the manager to his branch while holding the rest of his family hostage.’
    • ‘The army used microphones to urge the gunmen to release the hostages and surrender.’
    • ‘The grim find came just days after hopes were raised for three of the hostages as a new videotape of them was released.’
    • ‘They had become hostages at sea, where captives are more discreetly disposed of than anywhere else.’
    captive, prisoner, detainee, internee
    View synonyms


  • hold (or take) someone hostage

    • Seize and keep someone as a hostage.

      ‘they were held hostage by armed rebels’
      ‘taken hostage at gunpoint’
      • ‘They seize the recruits and hold them hostage for a few hours.’
      • ‘They will take you from me, and hold you hostage.’
      • ‘‘We needed to look the beast in the eye,’ explains Archbishop Desmond Tutu, ‘so that the past wouldn't hold us hostage any more.’’
      • ‘They will have the power to hold us hostage to blackmail and terror.’
      • ‘The murder was unusual in that was no attempt was made by his attackers to hold him hostage or make political capital out of his nationality.’
      • ‘The purpose of such action is to force average people to their knees and hold them hostage to the horrors of terrorism.’
      • ‘It doesn't make sense for the terrorists to abduct a person, hold him hostage, and not tell anyone until just before they execute him.’
      • ‘There is never a good business reason to let an employee hold you hostage.’
      • ‘They hold you hostage and feed you horrible fattening food you would never eat anywhere else.’
      • ‘It's like the Stockholm Syndrome where hostages imprint on the people who hold them hostage and fight against their rescuers.’
  • a hostage to fortune

    • An act, commitment, or remark that is regarded as unwise because it invites trouble or could prove difficult to live up to.

      ‘making objectives explicit is to give a hostage to fortune’
      • ‘There's no point in giving hostages to fortune, is there?’
      • ‘They might pass something that proves an electoral liability or makes a minister a hostage to fortune.’
      • ‘In essence, the manifesto which evolved during the 1990s was a pragmatic statement of radical intent which went out of its way to remove the more obvious hostages to fortune which were never going to be implemented anyway.’
      • ‘Statues, like wives and children, are hostages to fortune; they inspire superstitious dread while their originals are in power, and an equally superstitious hatred when they lose the aura of power.’
      • ‘This brave statement may yet prove to be a hostage to fortune.’
      • ‘Nobody who has been an MP for 12 years and a front-bencher for eight can be unaware of the risks involved in handing hostages to fortune.’
      • ‘The coalition which will form the new government will almost certainly have to give a number of hostages to fortune if it is to get there.’
      • ‘These are just early signs and it would be giving hostages to fortune to suggest that suddenly everything is back fully on track in terms of global growth.’
      • ‘There is no point in producing a blog if it is not honest and open but politicians are wary beasts because we are all hostages to fortune and we don't want to give our opponents ammunition.’
      • ‘Promises made in the heat of an election campaign all too often create hostages to fortune.’


Middle English: from Old French, based on late Latin obsidatus ‘the state of being a hostage’ (the earliest sense in English), from Latin obses, obsid- ‘hostage’.