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’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘Fangs flashing, the cat leaped at Jim, who staggered back, falling into Banks' arms.’
    • ‘He grunted and staggered back before falling to the ground, dead.’
    • ‘Once the curtain falls, you'll stagger outside feeling unbalanced, wondering what just happened and what it all means.’
    • ‘He staggered into Church Walk, collapsed, and was found by passers-by.’
    • ‘I cried out in pain, staggering back and falling on my back to the ground.’
    • ‘No doubt about it, he swayed and staggered when he walked.’
    • ‘Forcing herself to move, she staggered out of bed, stumbled and almost fell.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘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 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.’
    • ‘I staggered to my feet only to fall down again because of a strong wave.’
    • ‘Anthony staggered before falling backwards onto the floor.’
    • ‘They fall into taxis or stagger happily on down to the Nitelink bus and sing all the way home.’
    • ‘This looks great at first but when you see the actual number of people arriving at the totaljobs site the fall out is staggering.’
    • ‘Once again the snow began to fall as he staggered onward, his future unknown, his past tortured, and his present uncertain.’
    • ‘He'd be staggering and falling over and sometimes there was a gang of kids following and poking fun and laughing.’
    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?’
      • ‘And most importantly, letting the treaty stagger on along a Via Dolorosa of months of rejection is dangerous.’
      • ‘Are their provisions for the protection of members, a safety net of sorts, should the investment bank stagger, or worse, collapse?’
      • ‘A succession of weak Prime Ministers and lack-lustre governments saw the country stagger from bad to worse.’
      • ‘Global markets continue to stagger from one perceived crisis to the next.’
      • ‘Asked what she thinks of the family, now she just says, ‘They just stagger from one crisis to another.’’
    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’
      • ‘Ryu's world exploded into stars as the blow connected with the side of his head, staggering him.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘‘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.’
      • ‘These rather horrified thoughts flew into my head at just about the moment that his own uppercut staggered me back and into the wall.’
  • 2with object Astonish or deeply shock.

    ‘I was staggered to find it was six o'clock’
    • ‘The expansive gallery, which is housed in the top two floors of the Mori Tower, commands staggering views all the way to Mount Fuji.’
    • ‘Along the way, even those of us well versed in some of the more astonishing feats of animal cognition will be staggered.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘Truly staggering amounts of money, from a variety of well-meaning friends, disappeared into his labyrinthine system of debts, leaving nothing to show.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘Third, though, is the most staggering number of all - 188 pounds, her weight when she began training five years ago.’
    • ‘Residents were staggered when yellow lines were painted in a village near York - and then removed less than 48 hours later.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘The sheer breadth of these studies can stagger the imagination, ranging across continents for specific forces of ecological and historical change.’
    • ‘Waterman, 57, said he was ‘shocked, staggered and speechless’ by the award.’
    • ‘These concepts may continue to stagger the imagination, but they no longer defy it.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘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.’
    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’
    • ‘Fortunately, the Government had agreed to allow country folk to stagger such payments until things recovered.’
    • ‘They should also listen to the car radio for the latest travel information and stagger journeys to avoid the busiest travel times.’
    • ‘Germany, like several other European nations, staggers the start of its school holidays in different areas.’
    • ‘Most of these districts are staggering the days off instead of closing early, in order to avoid paying unemployment benefits to the teachers.’
    • ‘There will be staggered starts, about five minutes apart, for each of the different classes.’
    • ‘Ministers have discussed staggering teaching hours to ease rush-hour road congestion.’
    • ‘Though the costs paid to those in the network are exorbitant, it guarantees safety and allows payment to be staggered over time.’
    • ‘Also, on hearing of the crush at the cattle camps, the Collector, B. Rajashekar, moved to stagger the fodder hours.’
    • ‘He also suggested staggered opening hours of entertainment venues was useful in controlling crowds.’
    • ‘Mr Wahid said pension payments were staggered across the whole week, so not all pensioners were affected.’
    • ‘The election was staggered over the entire week.’
    • ‘This meant the switch-on had to be staggered as the load would have been too heavy for a simultaneous switch-on.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘But he said: ‘People have now found alternative routes and staggered their journeys.’’
    • ‘Voting hours are staggered across the country, meaning the impact will vary by region.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘Elections are staggered so the Board never is composed completely of new members.’
    • ‘Also, stagger hours so that fewer people are in a building at the same time.’
    • ‘The curator, Anthony Gross, has staggered the screenings in order to show as many films as possible in two weeks.’
    • ‘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.’
    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’
      • ‘In Block C especially the roof line is staggered.’
      • ‘Although strictly a two-storey property, the ground floor is staggered on three levels.’
      • ‘Begin planting as early as possible and stagger plantings every two weeks for a long season of blooms through September.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘Continue stacking layers on top, staggering them toward the center so the last tulips stand upright.’
      • ‘It works by staggering the tags that surround your posts.’
      • ‘The rear shocks have been staggered, one fixed forward from the axle, the other one tilting back.’
      • ‘The joints between the tabs must continue to be 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.’
      alternate, step, arrange in a zigzag
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  • 1An unsteady walk or movement.

    ‘she walked with a stagger’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘Next it was a stagger up Digbeth High Street to the Royal George.’
    • ‘There was a stagger rather than a swagger about Johnson in recent years.’
    • ‘Then, as if in a dream, I lifted the broom off the sidewalk and saw the beetle stagger, right itself, and run off.’
    • ‘She was holding Leo's hand, and was leaning against him, so as he walked, he did it 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.’
    • ‘Most of the mercenaries were dispersing, slowly walking, although for some it was more of a stagger, down the streets bragging to one another.’
    • ‘Spahr's call sign was ‘Dukes,’ and he was known to do an impersonation of John Wayne, complete with the stagger.’
    • ‘Particularly outstanding is Jim Broadbent, who plays a sputtering drunk with easy stagger.’
    • ‘She took off again, this time at more of a stagger than a run.’
    • ‘Our daily parade down the Croisette has turned from a saunter to a stagger.’
    • ‘Since I've moved house, my local is now the Drayton Court, just a short stagger from BNI Towers.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘Depp has also developed a strange walk, a kind of loopy stagger, which is attributed to the sunstroke he suffered as a castaway.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘He has everything right - the stagger of the man walking, the drape of the man sitting, the accusatory point of the man's finger.’
    • ‘This really gives you one heck of an image and you can really strut around town with a stagger in your step.’
  • 2An arrangement of things in a zigzag order or so that they are not in line.

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


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.