Definition of oscillate in US English:



[no object]
  • 1Move or swing back and forth at a regular speed.

    ‘a pendulum oscillates about its lowest point’
    • ‘It is simply a measure of how quickly something is oscillating or vibrating.’
    • ‘After a few minutes C.'s left hand started to oscillate back and forth.’
    • ‘The male pulled a chair closer to my bedside and hung the lamp from a hook above the bed, the shadows oscillating as it swung gently.’
    • ‘The aircraft oscillated, and the load started to swing, which caused the aircraft to become unstable.’
    • ‘As you can guess, it oscillates interminably and swings in the wind.’
    • ‘Their weapons looked menacing even holstered and their spiked helmets with the single eye-sensor oscillating back and forth made him somewhat uncomfortable.’
    • ‘He conducted experiments which led him to the conclusion that a simple pendulum of length one virgula would oscillate 3959.2 times in 30 minutes.’
    • ‘The fact that the fluid oscillates back and forth through the hole rather than flows from the high-pressure side to the low-pressure side, as a normal liquid would, is one of the many weird aspects of quantum systems like superfluids.’
    • ‘A toothed crown-wheel on the spindle made the escapement oscillate, the escapement regulated the rate at which the spindle turned, and the rotation of the spindle measured the passage of time by moving a hand around a marked clock face.’
    • ‘Her eyes were open but they were going from one side to the next, constantly oscillating back and forth, back and forth.’
    • ‘This sleek, Swiss-made timepiece uses a pendulum that oscillates at 36,000 vibrations per hour.’
    • ‘The tip may also oscillate up and down as it moves across the surface, mapping out the surface features.’
    • ‘Stare until columns of tiles oscillate rapidly back and forth, chaotically at first, but more rhythmically in passing.’
    • ‘I used my seat and gently oscillated my reins (moving the bit back and forth in his mouth) to bring him back under me into a nice easygoing canter.’
    • ‘Multi-surface massage head oscillates at 3600 vibrations per minute - 60 vibrations per second.’
    • ‘He also evaluated static slicing installation in which an implement with a blade inserted at least 10 in. into the ground opens the soil without vibrating or oscillating and pulls the fabric into this slit.’
    • ‘The 811 H has Linde hydraulic pumps and Parker hydraulic components, a NAF gearbox, oscillating rear axle and DANA bogie axles which are made in Italy.’
    • ‘A thin oscillating membrane of nickel-titanium moves fluid that in turn drives a piston.’
    • ‘He even allowed for the possibility that the electrons might maintain a stable configuration by moving in circles or oscillating back and forth about a state of equilibrium.’
    • ‘The cams are mounted on a shaft which oscillates in rotation, and the pistons move so as to follow the profile of the cam.’
    swing, sway, swing from side to side, swing back and forth, swing backwards and forwards, swing to and fro, vibrate
    View synonyms
    1. 1.1with adverbial Waver between extremes of opinion, action, or quality.
      ‘he was oscillating between fear and bravery’
      • ‘I'm oscillating between being very up and very down; very silly and very sensible; manic and very lazy; happier than I've been for ages and on the verge of tears.’
      • ‘Sometimes oscillating between the lives of the people I work with, the people I write about and my own life, everything starts to feel fictional.’
      • ‘He was oscillating between hope and fear, depression and elation.’
      • ‘Really, why bother having any policies then if you keep oscillating between denial of serious policy, and then saying you are going to make changes.’
      • ‘They oscillate back and forth between the Church and party officials, depending on which side is more convincing at a time.’
      • ‘This can cause the players' strategies to oscillate back and forth indefinitely.’
      • ‘In the synonymy of slippery speech, to waffle, waver, oscillate, vacillate is ‘to swing back and forth between opinions.’’
      • ‘Much of the modern study of El Greco might be described as oscillating between two extremes - either a sharp focus on the attribution of his works, or a discursive handling of the historiography of the artist's personality and image.’
      • ‘The perversity of his relationship with Busch, whom he patronises and desires, and her feelings for him - oscillating between hatred and tenderness - come into focus here too - powerfully but too late.’
      • ‘I came in this morning feeling kind of fragile and oscillating between paying attention to see how I was feeling and trying not to think about it for fear that panicking would make it worse.’
      • ‘So, while living on this beautiful planet, one is conditioned to oscillate like a pendulum about the importance of love in life.’
      • ‘In an era when the pendulum of power and wealth has oscillated between players and clubs, Carey has conducted himself at all times with dignity and a determination never to take anything for granted.’
      • ‘He'll oscillate back and forth between a discussion of eastern philosophies and a discussion of particle physics.’
      • ‘The pendulum of European policy-making thus oscillates between the national and the European arenas, and sometimes between them and the international level.’
      • ‘Bipolar Disorder, also known as manic depressive psychosis is a serious mental disorder characterized by cyclic mood swings, the patient oscillates between extreme sadness and happiness.’
      • ‘The three characters interact on several levels, oscillating between acknowledgment and denial of the event that has brought them together.’
      • ‘Americans oscillate back and forth between a strong desire to either transform ‘alien’ things or withdraw from them; we cannot live comfortably side by side with them, as they are.’
      • ‘The shows are a real pot luck option, oscillating between greatest hits group shows and ill-advised solo outings.’
      • ‘Everything is in a never-ending state of flux, oscillating between life and death, mocking our every attempt at permanence.’
      • ‘Intellectually, Alex understands that the relationship was wrong, but his emotions oscillate back and forth through a full spectrum of feeling.’
      waver, swing, fluctuate, alternate, see-saw, veer, yo-yo, sway, go from one extreme to the other, vary, vacillate, teeter, hover
      View synonyms
  • 2Physics
    Vary in magnitude or position in a regular manner around a central point.

    • ‘The circuit incorporates a nanopore mechanism with a molecular trap that forces the DNA molecule to oscillate back and forth between electrodes, measuring the electrical signal associated with each specific base.’
    • ‘The light made the electrons in each atom oscillate back and forth from one side of the atom to the other.’
    • ‘The physical scalar fields that oscillate as normal modes about the potential minimum are the massless angular mode and the massive radial mode.’
    • ‘The spectral frequencies should then correspond to the various ways in which the electrons might oscillate within the positively-charged pudding.’
    • ‘By creating pronounced distortion products, it makes the hair bundle oscillate in a complex manner with an amplitude that is modulated by non-sinusoidal beats.’
    • ‘The temperature of a very narrow central region was observed to oscillate in a sinusoidal manner for over two minutes.’
    • ‘Furthermore, once started, the acceleration field of a superconducting cavity will oscillate indefinitely with almost no loss of energy, making it much more efficient than a conventional cavity.’
    1. 2.1 (of a circuit or device) cause the electric current or voltage running through it to vary in magnitude or position in a regular manner around a central point.
      • ‘A simple device might oscillate at 1Hz (once per second), therefore 1 second would elapse for each oscillation.’
      • ‘We suggest that ash-laden vertical density currents probably attain and then oscillate about a characteristic size that maximizes the buoyancy flux and represents the optimum efficiency for vertical mass transport.’
      • ‘The electric field reverses direction, or oscillates, every 15 minutes.’
      • ‘Figure 2 Map of spectral absorption wavelengths across a wafer shows an absorption dip indicating the Fabry-Perot wavelength at which the laser will oscillate.’
      • ‘The electrical field of the pulse oscillates, first driving an electron away from its atom, then causing it to reverse direction and smash into the atom.’
      • ‘Both of these circuits oscillate with the same frequency as growth but are temporally out-of-phase with respect to the start of the growth cycle.’
      • ‘Alternating Current simply means that the voltage oscillates between positive and negative.’
      • ‘When sufficient gsl is present, it drives fast bursting, and as a result the slow s2 current does not have enough time to oscillate.’
      • ‘The frequency chip is oscillated by static electricity produced by the body [of the user] inhaling and exhaling gases into and out of the lung cavity.’
      • ‘When excited by energy from a laser, these cantilevers oscillate at frequencies of around 11 to 12 Megahertz (MHz).’
      • ‘This induced voltage drives a secondary oscillating current in the conductive body, also at the same frequency as the primary, but with a phase difference that depends on the electrical properties of the conductor.’
      • ‘A phenomenon called self-induction is at work here: as the current oscillates, the magnetic field around the wire changes, too, inducing voltages that slow the oscillation.’
      • ‘Using Josephson junctions, scientists can create wave patterns in electrical currents that oscillate back and forth billions of times per second, mimicking the natural oscillations between quantum states in atoms.’
      • ‘When an AC voltage applied to one of the electrodes matches the resonance frequency of the arm - specifically between 350 and 400MHz in this example - the arm will oscillate between the electrodes.’
      • ‘The capacitors had charges oscillating, inductors had currents oscillating, all at the same frequency…’
      • ‘Subsequently Jonathan Ashmore, then at Bristol University, measured the speed of the outer-hair-cell motor and showed that it could respond to oscillating voltages at several kilohertz.’
      • ‘An oscillating voltage created an electric field across the gap to accelerate the particles each time around.’
      • ‘‘To push beyond the gigahertz range of frequencies has been very difficult because the waves oscillate so fast that most electronics can't keep up,’ Nori said.’
      • ‘Quantum whistling is analogous to a phenomenon in another macroscopic quantum system, a superconductor, which develops an oscillating current when a voltage is applied across a non-conducting gap.’
      • ‘The system works, says Eleftherios Goulielmakis of the Max Planck Institute, because the electrons come in pulses of 250 as, while the electric field oscillates at 2.5 fs.’


Early 18th century: from Latin oscillat- ‘swung’, from the verb oscillare.