Definition of startle in US English:



[with object]
  • Cause (a person or animal) to feel sudden shock or alarm.

    ‘a sudden sound in the doorway startled her’
    with infinitive ‘he was startled to see a column of smoke’
    • ‘As her body rose, so did her heart rate; she was prepared to be startled but still felt scared.’
    • ‘The sharpness in her voice startles Clark, as does her sudden pointing finger.’
    • ‘The slow movement had just begun when the audience was startled by the slamming of the Assembly Hall door.’
    • ‘The alarm clock startles you out of blissful alcoholic slumber and thrusts you into a nightmare world of pain and regret.’
    • ‘As you carefully squat down and try to relax a snake suddenly comes slithering through the weeds and startles you.’
    • ‘The thing that always startles me is how different the thousands of Catholics I meet on the road are from so many of the commentators I read at St. Blog's.’
    • ‘It was feared the turbine could startle horses and riders and frighten livestock, and set a precedent for mobile phone company masts to be put up.’
    • ‘As always I approached silently, hoping to startle them with a sudden intrusion.’
    • ‘When you get back into the car, the loudness of the radio startles you.’
    • ‘I stared at her in amazement, startled by the sudden change of expression in her voice.’
    • ‘He found himself making his way along a rocky crest when a sudden rustling in the brush startled him.’
    • ‘A sharp tap on the ground in front of the dog's legs startles him without scaring him.’
    • ‘She doesn't preach or exhort or alarm; she startles you into action.’
    • ‘All of a sudden a noise startled the horse.’
    • ‘It's a scary movie that doesn't so much try to scare you as it tries to startle you.’
    • ‘The voice, once again, startles her back to reality.’
    • ‘The sudden wail of an infant outside the bathroom door startles us.’
    • ‘James was startled by the sudden intrusion and quickly stood up by the foot of the bed.’
    • ‘The clapping of the passengers startles me awake as we arrive at Israel's Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv.’
    • ‘Darin has been staring into space, so Jason's sudden yelling startles him.’
    surprise, frighten, scare, alarm, give someone a shock, give someone a fright, give someone a jolt, make someone jump
    View synonyms


Old English steartlian ‘kick, struggle’, from the base of start. The early sense gave rise to ‘move quickly, caper’ (typically said of cattle), whence ‘cause to react with fear’ (late 16th century).