Definition of retreat in English:



  • 1 (of an army) withdraw from enemy forces as a result of their superior power or after a defeat.

    ‘the French retreated in disarray’
    • ‘The ensuing battle was short and decisive; although both Wolfe and Montcalm were fatally wounded, the French retreated and Quebec fell.’
    • ‘In the summer of 1915 the Russian army retreated on its southwest front.’
    • ‘The French army retreated towards the River Marne and it was here that both German and French armies fought out the first major battle on the Western Front.’
    • ‘General Robert E. Lee narrowly escaped defeat this battle and the lack of men caused him and his army to retreat back in to Virginia.’
    • ‘I gave the order to retreat after half of the squadron was destroyed.’
    • ‘I just received word that the enemy forces are retreating.’
    • ‘The First Shock Army was retreating along a narrow corridor between two series of hills.’
    • ‘When daylight arrived, scouting parties would work their way up over the hill in order to determine exactly how far the Army had retreated.’
    • ‘Now, however, in the wake of this second wave of attack, they were retreating, having realized defeat.’
    • ‘All ships must retreat, as the enemy force is too large for us to tackle in our current status.’
    • ‘General Das receives word that Civantor has been forced to retreat from Canterbury.’
    • ‘The Union troops plodded back to Washington, and Lee's army retreated to Richmond.’
    • ‘Massena attempted to lay siege to Torres Vedras, but after four months his army, starved and demoralized, was forced to retreat.’
    • ‘Throughout the early hours of the battle, the warriors repeated this action in an attempt to collapse Carter's line and force him to retreat across the river.’
    • ‘Knights of both kingdoms clashed for what seemed like half a day, and in the end, the remaining Sunfall knights fell back and retreated.’
    • ‘With Prussian support uncut, the Russian army in Warsaw marched into Silesia forcing Italy to retreat.’
    • ‘In the winter of 1778, Washington's ragged army had retreated here to regroup.’
    • ‘With winter coming on, Napoleon finds his invasion stalled and he is forced to retreat from Russia.’
    • ‘This ill-fated attempt resulted in the death of several men under Pryor's command and forced the survivors to retreat downriver.’
    • ‘Each charge was fast and quick, with the Indians retreating almost as soon as the gunfire erupted from the rocks.’
    withdraw, retire, draw back, pull back, pull out, fall back, give way, give ground, recoil, flee, take flight, beat a retreat, beat a hasty retreat, run away, run off, make a run for it, run for it, make off, take off, take to one's heels, make a break for it, bolt, make a quick exit, clear out, make one's getaway, escape, head for the hills
    View synonyms
    1. 1.1 Move back or withdraw.
      ‘it becomes so hot that the lizards retreat into the shade’
      ‘a series of trenches which filled with water when the ice retreated’
      ‘the sound of retreating footsteps’
      • ‘Slumping back in his seat, the head of Sleet house let out a quiet sigh as he watched his false friends retreat from the table.’
      • ‘He backed away from the fire, retreating to the rear of the cave, and huddled against the rock, trying to block out the voices calling his name.’
      • ‘Orville bobbed his brown head of hair and retreated to the safety of the kitchen.’
      • ‘Grumbling, the old woman retreated back upstairs, mumbling continually about the problems with today's youth.’
      • ‘As I approached, Gregory and Mikhail retreated, moving farther into the sheltered area.’
      • ‘The animals had already retreated into their jungle homes, and the water had subsided.’
      • ‘When Anna, as usual, shooed me out of the kitchen, I defeated, retreated back to the lounge.’
      • ‘There's no pausing, save for retreating to a safer area.’
      • ‘Many from the crowd immediately fled; others retreated to what was felt a safe distance.’
      • ‘The girl squeaked, dropped the phone, and I heard her footsteps retreating away from the phone.’
      • ‘If the water line rises far, it means a tidal wave will come and people must retreat to high ground, he said.’
      • ‘We retreated into the darkness of the passage, moving quickly back to the storage closet before crossing the hall to my room.’
      • ‘The crowd of people gasped and retreated a few steps from me, like I was a wild animal whom they thought to be dead, only to come back to life.’
      • ‘It seemed, at the sound of rapidly retreating footsteps, that he did not want to see me.’
      • ‘The footsteps resumed again, retreating into the dark once more.’
      • ‘She let her tense shoulders fall and retreated back to the opposite wall, keeping her eyes on Zarius the whole time.’
      • ‘She heard footsteps moving away from her and could only guess Rhea had retreated to the bedroom.’
      • ‘Risaku retreated to the ground where his friends safely resided.’
      • ‘Cate remained standing there, watching the doors swing and listening to the soft sound of Alexander's retreating footsteps.’
      • ‘At least that would give us time to retreat to safer grounds.’
      go out, ebb, recede, flow out, fall, go down
      View synonyms
    2. 1.2 Withdraw to a quiet or secluded place.
      ‘after the funeral he retreated to the shore’
      • ‘More practically, it gives them a place to retreat to, escaping the stress of life in the public eye.’
      • ‘He skipped dinner and retreated to his room to practice all night.’
      • ‘Some miles down was a great waterfall that fell into a beautiful stone haven Angharad liked to retreat to.’
      • ‘Undaunted, uncluttered, untouched, this is the charm of Tobago for the celebrated citizens of the world who retreat to its shores.’
      • ‘Edwards lives in and has a studio in Toronto but also has a place to retreat to and draw inspiration from in the rural farm country of Canada just north of Toronto.’
      • ‘As he grows older Frenhofer retreats into seclusion, devoting his last years to a single work that no one has seen and that he cannot bring himself to complete.’
      • ‘With the jury still out, we retreat to the back corner of the court.’
      • ‘I left the table, and retreated to a quiet spot on the stairs beside Smokey, hoping not to be found for the rest of the day.’
      • ‘So they retreated to a quiet agrarian existence as a form of protest, painting mountains and rivers because these are what endure.’
      • ‘For Hewitt, nature becomes a refuge, a place to which he can retreat and escape from the rigours of life.’
      • ‘My father had retreated to his study for most of this period, though, which I found to be quite against his character.’
      • ‘After the funeral, though, he had retreated more into himself, and closed up even more - if that was even possible.’
      • ‘Mrs. Robinson had let him retreat to someplace quiet to finish student evaluations.’
      • ‘Hazel wrote all her work by hand and on Sundays would retreat to the quiet of the nearly empty computer laboratory at Massey University to type up her thesis.’
      • ‘Livia retreated from the outside world more and more, even shutting out the company of Sarah Buckner.’
      • ‘As his reputation declined, the sculptor retreated to his studio and stopped exhibiting.’
      • ‘As if by instinct, he retreats to the woodshed, a quiet and private place where he sometimes goes just to sit and think.’
      • ‘When things become too stressful he retreats into his mind where he does mathematical puzzles for hours on end to calm himself down.’
      • ‘As he got older, he retreated from the public eye, spent his days in quiet solitary devotion and scholarly study.’
      • ‘Shivering he slowed his breathing and closed his mind, retreating within himself in one of the meditation rituals.’
    3. 1.3 Change one's decisions, plans, or attitude, as a result of criticism from others.
      ‘his proposals were clearly unreasonable and he was soon forced to retreat’
      • ‘I am in earnest - I will not equivocate - I will not excuse - I will not retreat a single inch - and I will be heard.’
      • ‘I think our case here would have to be that we can't get out of it, that one way or another you're in this argument, it's a very, very difficult one to retreat from.’
      • ‘Obviously the council have now retreated in the face of their united voice.’
      • ‘The government should not retreat in the face of striking workers using force.’
      • ‘It is a role we should embrace with real confidence, resisting nostalgia, refusing to retreat into isolationism.’
      • ‘Deng, as a result, had to argue his case, to move one step at a time, and sometimes to retreat from positions which opposition had made untenable.’
      • ‘As soon as you attack one thing he retreats and agrees with you, and as soon as you agree with him he disagrees again.’
      change one's decision, change one's mind, change one's attitude, change one's plans
      View synonyms
    4. 1.4 (of shares of stock) decline in value.
      [with complement] ‘shares retreated 32 points to 653 points’
      • ‘London shares retreated this week as the Chancellor unveiled his latest Budget.’
      • ‘London shares retreated in a week that saw oil prices surge to a new record high of more than $54 a barrel.’
    5. 1.5Chess [with object] Move (a piece) back from a forward or threatened position on the board.
      • ‘Also, his pieces are retreated, rather than immediately removed from the board.’
      • ‘However it all made perfect sense for the computer, as it thought that Kramnik's best was to retreat his knight, then it would repeat its move too, settling for a draw.’
      • ‘Black could safely retreat the knight, but the king move brings the game to a crisis.’
      • ‘Black's next move intends to retreat the queen to h6 if necessary, seeking to relieve some pressure through a queen trade.’
      • ‘Bareev retreated his king and knight and amazingly got the draw in 73 moves after he looked dead lost.’


  • 1An act of moving back or withdrawing.

    ‘a speedy retreat’
    ‘the army was in retreat’
    • ‘He pictured himself now, crawling in the mud of a ditch, filthy and wretched, scampering in retreat.’
    • ‘They seemed to have made a cowardly retreat and were most likely shivering in fear from the sound of her giant robot's earth-shaking footsteps.’
    • ‘The battle raged for nine hours, but at midnight Napoleon ordered a retreat.’
    • ‘On the evening of 4th July, under cover of sheeting rain, he set his men in retreat towards Virginia.’
    • ‘However, surrounding tribes rose up and forced a desperate retreat through mountainous country.’
    • ‘As the Union retreat continued, a mammoth bottleneck developed at Frayser's Farm, halting the withdrawal.’
    • ‘The fusillade to protect his retreat began and as he went, keeping low, he dragged with him the spool of wire to be connected to the detonator.’
    • ‘Michaela almost took a step back in retreat but she checked herself and lifted her chin.’
    • ‘First looking at Maria, then back at Erik, the man's weapon hand began to shake apprehensively as he started to take several steps in retreat.’
    • ‘Barely seconds into the conflict, and already the defenders are in retreat.’
    • ‘We do not yet know whether different stages of a battle, such as the initial salvos, a fighting retreat and a rout, have different archaeological signatures.’
    • ‘The later Middle Ages was a period when royal feudal rights are usually considered to have been in retreat in England.’
    • ‘Hector and his stalwart Trojan army force the Greeks into a retreat.’
    • ‘These can weaken the enemy, forestall his attack, and potentially force his retreat.’
    • ‘Last night the cavalry covered the retreat of the last troops from Manassas, though there was hardly any opposition, if any at all.’
    • ‘It is true that the national assembly, and in particular its government ministries, continued to be dominated by wealthy notables, but the landed magnates were in retreat.’
    • ‘The military archives yielded much more information on the retreat of Napoleon's Grand Army across Germany in 1813.’
    • ‘There may seem little hope in fighting, but there is still less in retreat.’
    • ‘The Jacobites managed an orderly retreat and William's forces were in no condition to pursue.’
    • ‘Natalya quickly followed after her brother in retreat, deciding to flee and live to fight yet another day.’
    withdrawal, pulling back, flight
    View synonyms
    1. 1.1 An act of changing one's decisions, plans, or attitude, especially as a result of criticism from others.
      ‘the unions made a retreat from their earlier position’
      • ‘After years of tub thumping, backroom arm twisting, and tactical releases and untactical retreats, Sun Microsystems investment in putting Java into interactive TV finally looks like paying off.’
      • ‘At Derby, his military council forced a retreat.’
      • ‘Mounting a strategic retreat, Sam re-entered the house and obediently followed Honey's mother back to the party.’
      • ‘Perhaps Shakespeare felt that a judicious tactical retreat following rehearsal criticism was in order, but that does not brand the line a mistake.’
      • ‘Lenin, however, was astute enough to realize that a strategic retreat was required.’
      • ‘Marin shifted a bit on his feet, before deciding that a strategic retreat was definitely called for.’
      • ‘The minister of war, Kuropatkin, was appointed to command the Far Eastern land forces and, no doubt familiar with War and Peace, adopted a strategy of retreat.’
      • ‘Strong campaigns across India maybe starting to force this corporation into a retreat, but it will not be the last such absurdity.’
      • ‘But Donahue tells us that the switch from grains to hay, from tillage to meadow did not signal a retreat.’
      • ‘Once the wizard is destroyed, you can opt for a tactical retreat, often a good idea considering in this mode, the wizard is unable to cast spells or summon any more creatures.’
      • ‘Their 2003 adventure ended in frustration when inclement weather forced a hasty retreat.’
      • ‘Feeling snubbed, she decided to beat a strategic retreat.’
      climbdown, backdown, retraction, concession, about-face, u-turn, rowback
      View synonyms
    2. 1.2 A decline in the value of shares of stock.
      • ‘Not surprisingly, the repeated rumours have led to surges and retreats in the share price, and while some speculators have made big profits, the company's thousands of small shareholders have been the real victims.’
      • ‘Market rates were moving higher, stocks were in retreat and then near-debacle struck in auto credit default swaps.’
  • 2A signal for a military force to withdraw.

    ‘the bugle sounded a retreat’
    • ‘Civantor, know the future value of his horse regiments, orders the retreat.’
    • ‘And soon the birds were flying everywhere signaling the retreat.’
    • ‘Even now, as she rested and waited for the signal to begin the retreat, the color on Guo's mantle did not even fade slightly.’
    • ‘In minutes, the once organised starguard lines had fallen into disarray, and the retreat was sounded.’
    • ‘For the moment, none of these players is sounding a retreat.’
    • ‘Ronin surmised that no one had escaped the fight unscathed, and he began wondering if he should've called a retreat in the first place.’
    • ‘He opened his mouth and breathed deeply, gathering oxygen into his lungs with which to sound the retreat.’
    • ‘Sometimes, I wanted to sound a general retreat.’
    • ‘There he held on for a time but with the Indians gaining ground he sounded a retreat and we recrossed the river.’
    • ‘Once one enemy squad is thoroughly decimated, the computer will automatically sound a retreat.’
    • ‘The victors pursued the fleeing enemy, killing and capturing as many as they could, until trumpets sounded the retreat.’
    • ‘Sounding the retreat in late September 1903, Harrison signaled the surrender of the professional politicians.’
    • ‘A call for retreat issued from somewhere in Elvish, followed by a horn, a single ringing note that bellowed over the clash of weapons and roars of beasts.’
    1. 2.1 A military musical ceremony carried out at sunset, originating in the playing of drums and bugles to tell soldiers to return to camp for the night.
      • ‘This beating of retreat was later extended to include the whole corps of drums with fifes, pipes or bugles.’
      • ‘In earlier days, fighting would cease at sunset and, following the beating retreat and the band troop, a hymn would be played in honour of those of the regiment who had fallen during the day.’
  • 3A quiet or secluded place in which one can rest and relax.

    ‘their mountain retreat in New Hampshire’
    • ‘He had offered her her choice of splendid apartments downtown, but he had also suggested the country, as a retreat.’
    • ‘The gentle breezes, lulling waves, and general island calm create a perfect setting for a regenerative retreat.’
    • ‘He spends most weekends at a hideaway retreat near Powerscourt Waterfall that he bought about two years ago from Dublin businessman Harry Crosbie.’
    • ‘Les Chenes was an ideal location for an artist's retreat.’
    • ‘The elegant Mahogany Room piano bar offers a quiet retreat overlooking the adjacent brick courtyard.’
    • ‘The central court is conceived as the largest room in the house, providing a common area and a sheltered retreat in summer.’
    • ‘The original Auroran settlers had landed in the location that was now the park and decided to keep it as a peaceful retreat in the centre of the city.’
    • ‘Within commuting distance of Dublin, the property could also be used as a country retreat or maintained as a family run bed-and-breakfast.’
    • ‘The cabin was right across from a lake, the perfect writer's retreat.’
    • ‘Delphi Mountain Resort and Spa is a luxury retreat which offers rejuvenation in a wilderness setting.’
    • ‘The rich colours and ever-changing light of the surrounds make this an ideal setting for a rural retreat, and outdoor activity centre.’
    • ‘The first two weeks of the Academy were spent in splendid isolation, with the group based in a country retreat in Wiltshire.’
    • ‘Fuchsia, blackthorn, limestone and seashore combine to make this a truly idyllic location, perfect as a weekend retreat or holiday home.’
    • ‘Cool and relaxing, the forest was a refreshing retreat from the muggy, crowded streets and alleyways of the now often crowded town.’
    • ‘He has transformed his house from drab and ordinary into an artist's retreat.’
    • ‘He needed a place to escape to, a retreat, a haven.’
    • ‘Powerscourt Paddocks should generate interest among families seeking a rural retreat within commuting distance of Dublin.’
    • ‘The client wanted a weekend retreat, with space for guests, which would respond to the beauty of the setting.’
    • ‘He wanted a quiet retreat to build his house upon and concentrate on his work.’
    • ‘Another building, the so-called ‘Maritime Villa’, has been interpreted as a place of quiet retreat for the Emperor.’
    refuge, haven, resort, asylum, sanctuary, sanctum sanctorum
    View synonyms
    1. 3.1 A period of seclusion for the purposes of prayer and meditation.
      ‘the bishop is away on his annual retreat’
      ‘before his ordination he went on retreat’
      • ‘Living in retreats in secluded areas they have silently and unceasingly guided the evolution of humanity through the work of their disciples.’
      • ‘Teaming up with celebrity stylist Louise O'Connor, Rita promises her clients the escapism of a modern day Zen retreat.’
      • ‘Silent meditation retreats, I've discovered, are helpful for some people and not for others.’
      • ‘His recovery programme goes on to embrace detox, rehab and Buddhist meditation retreats.’
      • ‘In Indian legend, every rishi, or yogi, who possesses divine power has a retreat in the mountain vastness of the Himalayas.’
      • ‘The number of Catholics who attend the annual retreat has swelled.’
      • ‘Since it was difficult to adhere to the advice imparted by visions, men and women went on annual fasts or retreats to renew the vision and reflect on their lives.’
      • ‘I had a little altar in my room, sat for an hour a day and regularly attended one-day retreats.’
      • ‘One can thus expand the definition of ‘adventure’ to include Zen meditation retreats, cello lessons, or medical school.’
      • ‘We had just spent a pleasant day on Belle Mare beach, splashing in crystal clear water across the street from a local ashram, the Asian version of a spiritual retreat.’
      • ‘Bishop Robinson will be in Ireland in October to address the annual retreat of the diocese of Limerick and Killaloe in the Dingle Skelligs hotel.’
      • ‘The most fervent Jansenists opted for a life of severe self-denial and constant prayer, in retreat from the world.’
      • ‘During this time he also made pilgrimages to Sri Lanka, India, China, and Nepal to visit Buddhist sites and for meditation retreats.’
      seclusion, withdrawal, retirement, solitude, isolation, hiding, privacy, sanctuary
      View synonyms


Late Middle English: from Old French retret (noun), retraiter (verb), from Latin retrahere pull back (see retract).