Definition of stray in US English:



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  • 1Move away aimlessly from a group or from the right course or place.

    ‘dog owners are urged not to allow their dogs to stray’
    ‘the military arrested anyone who strayed into the exclusion zone’
    ‘I strayed a few blocks in the wrong direction’
    • ‘She went for a long walk and strayed into the forest.’
    • ‘Officers said they had strayed into Glodwick - starting point of the Oldham race riots last May - in search of a taxi and were confronted by a gang of up to 12 stick-wielding men.’
    • ‘The cause was a light plane flown by two hapless pilots from rural Pennsylvania, who mistakenly strayed into the restricted airspace surrounding Washington DC.’
    • ‘In September, the Soviet air force shot down a South Korean passenger jet after it strayed into Soviet air space.’
    • ‘It also provided a window on the long-standing predilections of a generation or three of trustees who got goose-bumps when anything English strayed into their path.’
    • ‘The statement refers to last month's incident during which a Chinese submarine strayed into Japanese waters and was chased out by the Japanese navy.’
    • ‘Never stray more than fifty yards along the beach from the car park.’
    • ‘According to the Civil Aviation Authority, he strayed into a two-mile wide no-fly zone over Heysham nuclear power station.’
    • ‘The Marines were arrested after they strayed into Iranian waters.’
    • ‘The Russian air force scrambled a fighter jet to intercept a Manchester-bound airliner that had strayed into its air space’
    • ‘Once or twice I thought I had strayed into a lecture course for undergraduates, because it feels as if the writer is repeating things he has said before.’
    • ‘He got into trouble when he strayed into Harlem.’
    • ‘No fewer than four aircraft had strayed into the exclusion zone around Elvington, putting the lives of those in the air and on the ground at risk.’
    • ‘Absentmindedly, she had strayed away from her path and walked into a back alley.’
    • ‘The uncle, who was driving, strayed into the oncoming lane.’
    • ‘The men were held after their patrol boats strayed into Iranian coastal waters close to the Iraq border.’
    • ‘We saw that last week when an aeroplane strayed into the no-fly zone in Washington.’
    • ‘His distribution was also hit and miss and he had strayed into an offside position when he put the ball in the net with his only shot of the match.’
    • ‘It's something we've strayed into ourselves before.’
    • ‘She said women were going into a small foyer next to the fitting rooms to give their men's clothes the once-over, but that some strayed into the actual changing room area.’
    wander off, go astray, drift, get separated
    digress, deviate, wander, drift, get sidetracked, go off at a tangent
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    1. 1.1 (of the eyes or a hand) move idly or casually in a specified direction.
      ‘her eyes strayed to the telephone’
      • ‘No wonder Morshead's eyes regularly stray skyward, as dark clouds canter across furlongs of watery blue.’
      • ‘While filming, she learned that Bhutanese monks performing religious ceremonies in people's homes often found their eyes straying to the television in the corner.’
      • ‘My left hand strayed out without me really thinking about it, and took hold of his right hand.’
      • ‘‘Stephanie,’ Rayne began, eyes straying to my legs before falling on my face.’
      • ‘The soldiers stiffened, their hands straying closer to the triggers pointed at her people.’
      • ‘His right hand strays to his cheek where it's quickly becoming red.’
      • ‘Twisting her hands together, her eyes strayed from Ben to the bed.’
      • ‘He took one of her tiny fists and kissed it, but his eyes strayed to where Lucia had disappeared.’
      • ‘Andrew raised his eyebrows, but his eyes didn't stray from his own face as he continued to toy with his hair.’
      • ‘At its foot, Harland disconnects a telephone call, his eyes nonchalantly straying to hers.’
      • ‘Seated in the club of late, I found my eyes straying to the walls.’
      • ‘Her hand strayed to her forehead and she closed her eyes.’
      • ‘Her good hand strayed to the wound in her arm, and he mentally cursed himself for forgetting.’
      • ‘Their right hands strayed absently to their sword-hilts.’
      • ‘Three weeks into her degree, Fahd was sitting in the university library dutifully highlighting a pile of notes when her eyes strayed to an office building across the way.’
      • ‘He falls silent for a moment, his eyes straying back to the movie.’
      • ‘My eyes strayed uncertainly towards the unmistakably masculine (but elegant) hand that gripped me firmly.’
      • ‘He felt his eyes straying to the Croce al Trebbio, the little granite column in the center of the piazza upon which a little bronze warrior proudly bore his sword.’
      • ‘Her left hand strayed to her hip, towards the thin knife sheathed under her skirt.’
      • ‘His right hand strayed to her cheek, brushing away a strand of hair and playing on her soft skin.’
    2. 1.2 (of a person who is married or in a long-term relationship) be unfaithful.
      ‘men who stray are seen as more exciting and desirable’
      • ‘Men, it seems, are less inclined to snoop on their spouses, with just a quarter admitting that they would check emails and around a third text messages to catch out straying partners.’
      • ‘Spouses sulk or stray; their adoptive mother feels rejected; their children get neglected.’
      • ‘Neither of us has ever strayed into marital infidelity.’
      • ‘The way a straying partner restores trust is to go out of his way to prove his trustworthiness to you.’
      • ‘Shouldn't I have had the right to choose whether I wanted my straying spouse back?’
      • ‘Her own husband is the wife's straying partner.’
      • ‘Even if the two weren't exclusive, he would never stray far from her.’
      • ‘And it can lead to romance and marriage, but also to heartbreak when a partner strays.’
      • ‘Many people say that if their partner strayed, they would prefer not to know about it.’
      • ‘Wild sex in all its variations night after night does not keep your partner from straying.’
      be unfaithful, have affairs, philander
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    3. 1.3literary Wander or roam in a specified direction.
      ‘over these mounds the Kurdish shepherd strays’
      digress, deviate, wander, drift, get sidetracked, go off at a tangent
      View synonyms


  • 1Not in the right place; separated from the group or target.

    ‘he pushed a few stray hairs from her face’
    ‘she was killed by a stray bullet’
    • ‘I would suggest you first pick up all stray hairs with a dampened paper towel so they don't get mixed up with your cloths and solutions.’
    • ‘‘You are going to do this,’ she said firmly, smoothing back a stray strand of hair.’
    • ‘A stray hair can lead to unpleasant sensations in one's mouth.’
    • ‘Ashton chuckled and pushed a stray hair behind her ear.’
    • ‘I blinked and slipped a stray piece of hair behind my ear.’
    • ‘The long-haired variety needs a regular brush and comb and occasional trimming of stray hairs.’
    • ‘She screamed, her hair in stray pieces along her forehead.’
    • ‘Atalana tugged at a stray piece of hair, looking bored.’
    • ‘I grinned at him, flicking a stray lock of my hair back.’
    • ‘Andrew smiled unconsciously and reached out the back of his hand to stroke away stray hairs.’
    • ‘She hurriedly grabbed her papers, gloves, and keys, tucked a stray hair behind her ear and looked sternly at me.’
    • ‘Hailey brushed a stray strand of hair away from her face and smiled. ‘I've seen better.’’
    • ‘‘And many happy returns,’ Grandmother piped up, pulling a stray hair into her tight bun.’
    • ‘She looked the strange man over a stray piece of hair falling haphazardly across her face.’
    • ‘The cotton soon gives way to desert, where stray camels roam.’
    • ‘Timothy tenderly swept stray locks of hair from her face.’
    • ‘I brushed a stray strand of her hair out of her face.’
    • ‘He brushed a stray lock of hair off of her forehead.’
    • ‘I fixed the last stray hair and turned to open the door.’
    • ‘He brushes a stray lock of hair away from Darin's face.’
    random, chance, accidental, freak, unexpected, casual, haphazard
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    1. 1.1 (of a domestic animal) having no home or having wandered away from home.
      ‘stray dogs’
      • ‘The hospital in Clarendon Drive cares for around 120 sick or injured stray cats a month.’
      • ‘And he has a string of bands to take to the stage to help raise cash for abandoned and stray cats and dogs.’
      • ‘But one of these animals brought death to this small village, when a stray dog went on the rampage, biting seven children.’
      • ‘The stray cats were seen wandering around in the greenland of Yandlord Garden, playing and searching for food day and night.’
      • ‘For the last few years Kingston have helped Richmond deal with their stray dogs, charging a fee per animal dealt with.’
      • ‘Currently Bulgaria has no legislation to regulate the relations between people and domestic and stray dogs.’
      • ‘Streets once packed with stray cats and dogs mysteriously have none.’
      • ‘Most people see a cuddly stray dog or cat as something to pet and perhaps take home as a pet.’
      • ‘The department planned to erect additional fencing along the runway to keep out stray animals.’
      • ‘Furman is part of a loosely organized community of local animal lovers who take care of stray cats.’
      • ‘Your child should never touch or feed stray cats or dogs wandering in the neighborhood or elsewhere.’
      • ‘It was felt that this could encourage stray dogs, cats and even rats.’
      • ‘We are going to be among the many who will gladly take the extra refuse to the council offices, to prevent cats, foxes and stray dogs attacking bags which are propping our bin lids open.’
      • ‘Every other day, my bin is tipped over and ripped open by stray cats, dogs and foxes.’
      • ‘The town decided to build the pound in 1734 to round up stray animals.’
      • ‘If a stray cat had wandered onto the field, it would have turned tail and looked for something less horrid.’
      • ‘She had adopted many of the stray cats that wandered Frost Castle, giving them more love and attention than she ever did her own fiancée.’
      • ‘Khalil has been heavily involved with wild animals like lions, bears and stray dogs in particular.’
      • ‘The streets were mostly deserted, filled by one or two stray cats and some rats.’
      • ‘Here and there, a stray cat or dog would dart in and out of sight, and one or two even come close enough to the travelers to beg for food.’
      homeless, lost, strayed, gone astray
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  • 2Physics
    (of a physical quantity) arising as a consequence of the laws of physics, not by deliberate design, and usually having a detrimental effect on the operation or efficiency of equipment.

    ‘stray capacitance’
    • ‘This method relies on the assumption that the stray capacitance and membrane conductance are negligible.’
    • ‘That's possible because all computers emit stray radiation.’
    • ‘Usually if your screen develops hot spots and tinged colour, it is probably due to the build-up of stray magnetic fields in your monitor.’
    • ‘And so what we were trying to do was to design radio frequency probes that gave stray magnetic fields of a very precise nature that we could compensate for in the equipment.’
    • ‘Just as a few lines of code can have a huge impact on the performance of certain kernel functions, so too can a few stray atoms have a massive effect on a final molecular product.’


  • 1A stray person or thing, especially a domestic animal.

    • ‘It was there, wandering the streets of Kathmandu picking up strays, that she first discovered her love of animals.’
    • ‘Jarrett swings the loop easily as he heads down the sage-covered ridge toward a stray.’
    • ‘As for the hound, he is nothing but a mooching stray.’
    • ‘They said he was a stray from Ireland and that his name was Jimmy.’
    • ‘His owner adopted him as a stray.’
    • ‘Only one of the overweight cats came in as a stray.’
    • ‘She anxiously put a hand to her bangs, fixing imaginary strays and adjusting the many colored, chunky plastic bracelets on her arm.’
    • ‘None of them recognized her or had seen a black stray.’
    • ‘It is fairly safe to assume that any bird you see will be in its proper location and not a stray from abroad or the western part of the continent.’
    • ‘The presence of this common deepwater skate in the waters encompassed by this list has not been shown, but a stray might be expected.’
    • ‘But then Patch came to the rescue and went for the stray.’
    • ‘She stayed low, not wanting to be hit by a stray of Carden's.’
    • ‘As a general rule, if you can pick it up, it is a sociable stray.’
    • ‘Cats are meat eaters so a large bowl of good quality tinned cat food along with a handful of dried cat food and a bowl of fresh water will most probably get a very warm reception from a hungry stray.’
    • ‘May's feline is Alastair, who was found in very poor condition as a stray in the Minety area.’
    • ‘It seemed to be a healthy animal, not a wild stray, and more importantly, it sported a black collar.’
    • ‘Charlie is a very happy and loving boy who came into the shelter as a stray.’
    • ‘He picked up his pace and ran full speed at the stray.’
    • ‘He looked on the neck and found it had no collar, so he was probably a stray.’
    • ‘The former stray, who had been Mr Boffey's companion for the past three years, was later found unharmed in another farm vehicle.’
    homeless animal, stray cat, stray dog
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  • 2straysElectrical phenomena interfering with radio reception.

    • ‘A description of the origin and nature of strays and their classification is given; together with a number of methods for their elimination.’
    • ‘Using this method, the test specimen may remain connected to the circuit throughout, so that a usual source of difficulty, the variation in strays upon connexion, is avoided.’


Middle English: shortening of Anglo-Norman French and Old French estrayer (verb), Anglo-Norman French strey (noun), partly from astray.