Definition of sputter in English:



  • 1[no object] Make a series of soft explosive sounds, typically when being heated or as a symptom of a fault.

    ‘the engine sputtered and stopped’
    • ‘Sure enough, about 15 minutes later the tap sputtered and a feeble flow of water began.’
    • ‘It roars to life and sputters noisily, but Hill assures me this has nothing to do with the biodiesel; the van just needs some work.’
    • ‘The engine sputtered and leaked steam and water, but it ran, better than I'd expected it to.’
    • ‘The bike's engine sputtered and then roared back to life as the two of them hopped on.’
    • ‘The enemy plane, its engine sputtering, lost altitude and turned back toward Pola.’
    • ‘A few moments later an engine sputtered from somewhere nearby.’
    • ‘The chestnuts on the fire sputtered and crackled noisily.’
    • ‘The dust filled her lungs, making her sputter and cough.’
    • ‘Behind me, Drew's car sputtered down the street, the sound getting fainter and fainter as he took a corner and drove off into the night.’
    • ‘The engine coughed, sputtered, then died altogether.’
    • ‘The engine sputtered and smoked and eventually stopped.’
    • ‘If the filter gets clogged with dirt, the car sputters and stalls.’
    • ‘They made their way back to the door, the fire hissing and sputtering all around them.’
    • ‘The walls danced with red ochre light as the flame sputtered and spat.’
    • ‘A second later the engine roared, sputtered and then turned over as the aging car came to life, the noisy motor provoking shrieks of anger from the sparrows nesting amidst the roofs.’
    • ‘The engine sputtered to life, and the car pulled back.’
    • ‘The engine sputtered, struggled and finally roared to life.’
    • ‘We went on for about five more minutes, and then the car sputtered again, and stopped.’
    • ‘Then, at 5,200 feet, the engine sputtered and, without any input, went up to 72 percent.’
    • ‘Even our jeep sputtered from lack of oxygen and finally stopped about a mile from the top.’
    1. 1.1[reporting verb]Speak in a series of incoherent bursts as a result of indignation or some other strong emotion.
      [with direct speech] ‘“But … but …” she sputtered’
      • ‘Chester sat up in bed painfully, and sputtered some nonsense about suing the hospital.’
      • ‘And it is time for him to stop sputtering ill-tempered threats, not only at the judiciary but also at the U.S. Constitution, which he repeatedly has sworn an oath to uphold.’
      • ‘The warden sputtered a comment or two in protest, but let himself be led outside.’
      • ‘The girl sputtered a few incoherent words and then fainted on the spot.’
      • ‘Mrs. Hastings sputtered incoherently in response before suddenly jumping to her feet in a desperate attempt to compose herself.’
      • ‘She was at a loss for words, sputtering incoherently at him.’
      • ‘Thompson's face turned red, he recalls, and she sputtered something about having too many events to attend and not enough time.’
      • ‘His wife sputtered incoherently for a moment before shouting, ‘But he cannot afford to marry her!’’
      • ‘‘Your Highness,’ Nicole sputtered, then stopped, still too surprised to say anything more.’
      • ‘The young man made a choked coughing sound and sputtered something that sounded like rot in Hell.’
      • ‘Warren saw the expression on her face and I mentally cackled as he immediately started sputtering an apology.’
      • ‘‘Well, I'll be damned,’ Jerry sputtered.’
      • ‘‘B-But I - he's - this won't work!’ Gabriel sputtered.’
      • ‘Myrtle turned red, sputtering something that Nick didn't hear.’
      • ‘Her mouth opened in indignation as she sputtered incoherent, half-formed words.’
      • ‘Yeah, for now, I'm angry enough that I can barely sputter, never mind speak or write coherently.’
      • ‘I turned red and sputtered something incoherent.’
    2. 1.2[with object]Emit with a spitting sound.
      ‘the goose is in the oven, sputtering fat’
      • ‘The shower head began to spit and sputter out hot water.’
    3. 1.3[with adverbial]Proceed or develop in a spasmodic and feeble way.
      ‘strikes in the public services sputtered on’
      • ‘These traditionally rural states will continue to struggle, particularly in today's sputtering economy.’
      • ‘The central bank is expected to cut interest rates today for the sixth time this year in an effort to boost bank lending and spur sputtering economic growth.’
      • ‘The U.S. economy seems poised to rebound one moment, then sputters the next.’
      • ‘So long as Europe's largest economy sputters, it is hard to see a real threat of inflation in the region.’
      • ‘The Fed has already cut rates seven times this year, by a total of three full percentage points, to try to reignite sputtering economic growth.’
      • ‘The dollar rally also sputtered this week, as the greenback lost about 1%.’
      • ‘The bubble burst late last year as the economy started sputtering, and now about 10 per cent of credit card debt is more than one month overdue in Asia's fourth-largest economy.’
      • ‘However, after getting off to a smashing start, the show sputters.’
      • ‘The romance sputters thanks to mediocre acting on the part of Gruffudd and Alba.’
      • ‘When the economy sputters, insurance payments help fuel consumption and get things back on track.’
      • ‘But whether an official recovery comes early or later, the economy will continue to sputter.’
      • ‘Defeated in Lombardy, the revolution sputtered on in Venice, Tuscany, Rome, and Sicily.’
      crackle, sputter, buzz, hiss, crack
      View synonyms
  • 2Physics
    [with object] Deposit (metal) on a surface by using fast ions to eject particles of it from a target.

    • ‘Motorola uses the same machinery to deposit the magnetic maternal as that used to sputter the magnetic oxide on to disk drive platters.’
    • ‘We prepared the filters for SEM analysis by sputtering a thin gold film on them.’
    • ‘Thin layers of chromium and gold were sequentially sputtered on the substrates using the following procedure.’
    1. 2.1Cover (a surface) with metal by sputter method.
      • ‘Some amber pieces were sputtered with carbon for this treatment and filaments of several amber pieces were scanned.’
      • ‘After critical point drying samples were sputtered with gold and investigated in a Zeiss DSM 962 scanning electron microscope.’


  • A series of soft explosive sounds, typically produced by an engine or by something heating or burning.

    ‘the sputter of the motor died away’
    • ‘The cruiser's engines sparked and roared to life after a few sputters.’
    • ‘Inside the building, Paul Meyer and his two young colleagues listened to the sputters of a cheap diesel generator.’
    • ‘Then, with a small sputter of exhaust, the car was off again, pulling away from the lot and off towards the main road.’
    • ‘They spoke little, each of them thinking his own thoughts, but it was a companionable silence, punctuated by the sputter and crackle of the fire.’
    • ‘Now I could hear the sputter of machine gun fire; the booms and screeches of torpedoes.’
    • ‘Chin heard gasps and sputters in the background.’


Late 16th century (as a verb): from Dutch sputteren, of imitative origin.