Definition of stagger in US English:



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

    ‘he staggered to his feet, swaying a little’
    • ‘Anthony staggered before falling backwards onto the floor.’
    • ‘I cried out in pain, staggering back and falling on my back to the ground.’
    • ‘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 the curtain falls, you'll stagger outside feeling unbalanced, wondering what just happened and what it all means.’
    • ‘They fall into taxis or stagger happily on down to the Nitelink bus and sing all the way home.’
    • ‘Forcing herself to move, she staggered out of bed, stumbled and almost fell.’
    • ‘Once again the snow began to fall as he staggered onward, his future unknown, his past tortured, and his present uncertain.’
    • ‘When he halted he appeared unsteady on his feet and staggered away from his car.’
    • ‘Theorton rolled back over and staggered to his feet, much to the protest of his injuries.’
    • ‘He staggered into Church Walk, collapsed, and was found by passers-by.’
    • ‘He grunted and staggered back before falling to the ground, dead.’
    • ‘I staggered to my feet only to fall down again because of a strong wave.’
    • ‘Fangs flashing, the cat leaped at Jim, who staggered back, falling into Banks' arms.’
    • ‘No doubt about it, he swayed and staggered when he walked.’
    • ‘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'd be staggering and falling over and sometimes there was a gang of kids following and poking fun and laughing.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘This looks great at first but when you see the actual number of people arriving at the totaljobs site the fall out is staggering.’
    lurch, walk unsteadily, reel, sway, teeter, totter, stumble, wobble, move clumsily, weave, flounder, falter, pitch, roll
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    1. 1.1with object and adverbial of direction Continue in existence or operation uncertainly or precariously.
      ‘the council staggered from one crisis to the next’
      • ‘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?’
      • ‘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?’
      • ‘Asked what she thinks of the family, now she just says, ‘They just stagger from one crisis to another.’’
      • ‘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.’
    2. 1.2archaic Waver in purpose; hesitate.
    3. 1.3archaic with object (of a blow) cause (someone) to walk or move unsteadily, as if about to fall.
      ‘the collision staggered her and she fell’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘Ryu's world exploded into stars as the blow connected with the side of his head, staggering him.’
  • 2with object Astonish or deeply shock.

    ‘I was staggered to find it was six o'clock’
    • ‘These concepts may continue to stagger the imagination, but they no longer defy it.’
    • ‘Along the way, even those of us well versed in some of the more astonishing feats of animal cognition will be staggered.’
    • ‘Third, though, is the most staggering number of all - 188 pounds, her weight when she began training five years ago.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘The expansive gallery, which is housed in the top two floors of the Mori Tower, commands staggering views all the way to Mount Fuji.’
    • ‘I am staggered that our hard-earned council tax money goes towards paying their wages.’
    • ‘Consumption of Merlot continues to stagger producers who struggle to cope with demand.’
    • ‘The sheer breadth of these studies can stagger the imagination, ranging across continents for specific forces of ecological and historical change.’
    • ‘But we certainly were there to chronicle the missteps and the absolute staggering human tragedy.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘Through this absolutely staggering performance, Rule finds a way to show knowing and naïveté, familiarity and foreignness in almost every move.’
    • ‘He had, they insisted, slightly misquoted a staggering number of lines.’
    • ‘Peter Francis, welfare rights manager at Barnsley Council, said the couple were staggered when they found out their weekly income had nearly doubled.’
    • ‘I am quite staggered at the way in which this bill is proceeding.’
    • ‘Residents were staggered when yellow lines were painted in a village near York - and then removed less than 48 hours later.’
    • ‘Truly staggering amounts of money, from a variety of well-meaning friends, disappeared into his labyrinthine system of debts, leaving nothing to show.’
    • ‘Waterman, 57, said he was ‘shocked, staggered and speechless’ by the award.’
    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
    astonished, astounded, amazed, stunned, thunderstruck, shattered, flabbergasted, nonplussed, taken aback, startled, surprised, bewildered, shocked, shell-shocked, shaken, stupefied, open-mouthed
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  • 3with object Arrange (events, payments, hours, etc.) so that they do not occur at the same time; spread over a period of time.

    ‘meetings are staggered throughout the day’
    • ‘Voting hours are staggered across the country, meaning the impact will vary by region.’
    • ‘The election was staggered over the entire week.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘This meant the switch-on had to be staggered as the load would have been too heavy for a simultaneous switch-on.’
    • ‘There will be staggered starts, about five minutes apart, for each of the different classes.’
    • ‘Most of these districts are staggering the days off instead of closing early, in order to avoid paying unemployment benefits to the teachers.’
    • ‘Ministers have discussed staggering teaching hours to ease rush-hour road congestion.’
    • ‘Mr Wahid said pension payments were staggered across the whole week, so not all pensioners were affected.’
    • ‘Also, stagger hours so that fewer people are in a building at the same time.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘Elections are staggered so the Board never is composed completely of new members.’
    • ‘Fortunately, the Government had agreed to allow country folk to stagger such payments until things recovered.’
    • ‘Germany, like several other European nations, staggers the start of its school holidays in different areas.’
    • ‘Though the costs paid to those in the network are exorbitant, it guarantees safety and allows payment to be staggered over time.’
    • ‘They should also listen to the car radio for the latest travel information and stagger journeys to avoid the busiest travel times.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘The curator, Anthony Gross, has staggered the screenings in order to show as many films as possible in two weeks.’
    • ‘But he said: ‘People have now found alternative routes and staggered their journeys.’’
    spread, spread out, space, space out, time at intervals, overlap
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    1. 3.1 Arrange (objects or parts of an object) in a zigzag order or so that they are not in line.
      ‘stagger the screws at each joint’
      • ‘Continue stacking layers on top, staggering them toward the center so the last tulips stand upright.’
      • ‘Although strictly a two-storey property, the ground floor is staggered on three levels.’
      • ‘The joints between the tabs must continue to be staggered.’
      • ‘In Block C especially the roof line is staggered.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘It works by staggering the tags that surround your posts.’
      • ‘Begin planting as early as possible and stagger plantings every two weeks for a long season of blooms through September.’
      • ‘The rear shocks have been staggered, one fixed forward from the axle, the other one tilting back.’
      • ‘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.’
      alternate, step, arrange in a zigzag
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  • 1An unsteady walk or movement.

    ‘she walked 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.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘Robby walked out onto his lawn with just a trace of a stagger and jumped into his brilliantly, subtle performance.’
    • ‘Next it was a stagger up Digbeth High Street to the Royal George.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘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 daily parade down the Croisette has turned from a saunter to a stagger.’
    • ‘She was holding Leo's hand, and was leaning against him, so as he walked, he did it with 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.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘Depp has also developed a strange walk, a kind of loopy stagger, which is attributed to the sunstroke he suffered as a castaway.’
    • ‘He has everything right - the stagger of the man walking, the drape of the man sitting, the accusatory point of the man's finger.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘She took off again, this time at more of a stagger than a run.’
    • ‘There was a stagger rather than a swagger about Johnson in recent years.’
    • ‘Most of the mercenaries were dispersing, slowly walking, although for some it was more of a stagger, down the streets bragging to one another.’
  • 2An arrangement of things in a zigzag order or so that they are not in line.

    • ‘Collagen fibrils are well known to be assemblies of parallel collagen molecules arranged with a longitudinal stagger according to the Hodge-Petruska scheme.’
    • ‘This arrangement produces a systematic stagger between the adjacent lattices as shown in Fig.5, A.’
    • ‘A consequence of this stagger on the x-ray diffraction pattern would be a marked enhancement of the 1.1 and 2.2 reflections.’


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.