Definition of terror in English:



  • 1Extreme fear.

    ‘people fled in terror’
    [in singular] ‘a terror of darkness’
    • ‘He was utterly exhausted, and the terror of the last few hours had finally caught up with him.’
    • ‘Sharing the terror of a close call and then the euphoria of survival is an experience that binds for a lifetime.’
    • ‘The humiliation of not being able to swim was bad, of course - but the terror of taking my feet off the bottom was far, far worse.’
    • ‘Witnesses described seeing office staff fleeing in terror from the scene when the siege began at 10 am.’
    • ‘Suddenly Vanga asked whether there was someone else in the room and I froze in terror.’
    • ‘She flies inside in terror, trembling all over, and that day decides to put back the curtain.’
    • ‘Arsonists torched a town-centre bar, causing residents in nearby houses to flee in terror.’
    • ‘The original house was built on an ancient graveyard and its last owner is rumoured to have fled in terror at the ghostly goings on.’
    • ‘Every single day and night we had to sit in terror of the next bomb, the next plane, the next explosion.’
    • ‘Each time I turned in terror to look back I nearly jumped out of my skin anticipating what I might see.’
    • ‘A lorry driver who got out of his cab to remonstrate with a motorist fled in terror when the man produced a gun, a court heard.’
    • ‘Fearing a curse, the townspeople fled in terror as soon as the weather broke.’
    • ‘In fact, it's surprising how little you notice when you've got your eyes firmly shut and you're screaming in terror.’
    • ‘We are told that rural communities live in terror of crime and it might be true.’
    • ‘A victim of nuisance youths has described how he waits in terror for what they will do next.’
    • ‘For months, he lived in terror of the secret police knocking at his door.’
    • ‘No longer in control of his own body, facing mortality, he had plenty of reason for terror.’
    • ‘I have lived those years both in dread of attending the party and in terror of missing it.’
    • ‘All I can say to the boys is that our obligation lies in helping others, in grieving, and in refusing to live in terror.’
    • ‘He awoke in terror, thinking he was in a tunnel that had collapsed.’
    extreme fear, dread, horror, fear and trembling, fright, trepidation, alarm, panic, shock
    View synonyms
    1. 1.1The use of terror to intimidate people, especially for political reasons; terrorism.
      ‘weapons of terror’
      • ‘We are confronting the nexus between terror and weapons of mass destruction.’
      • ‘Their job was to secure public order through terror, intimidation and violence.’
      • ‘Is the government complicit in this campaign of violence and terror?’
      • ‘They attacked free settlers and used terror to intimidate those opposed to slavery.’
      • ‘Swindon magistrates heard they had waged a campaign of terror in the past six months, causing mayhem for shoppers and staff.’
      • ‘Elderly residents in a Maldon street have been driven to the brink of despair by yobs who they say have subjected them to a campaign of terror.’
      • ‘Acts or threats of violence the primary purpose of which is to spread terror among the civilian population are prohibited.’
      • ‘Several documents reflected the terror of the late 1930s and are in the form of denunciations.’
      • ‘Political repression and state terror have also been shown to result in significant psychological sequelae.’
      • ‘A phoney secret agent and his wife are in custody awaiting sentence for their campaign of terror against a family.’
      • ‘The many fundamental reasons that people resort to terror remain unaddressed’
      • ‘The Prime Minister pledged to do all that was necessary to root out the criminal minority behind the campaign of terror.’
      • ‘Their goal is simply to cause terror without a justified reason.’
      • ‘Our best chance of marginalising those who deal in terror is to retain our humanity while responding to their inhumanity.’
      • ‘There will no doubt be other successes which we can't know about yet because they are part of the ongoing campaign against terror.’
      • ‘You don't use weapons of terror on people you are intending to liberate.’
      • ‘From the very outset all the combatants knew that the bomb would be both a weapon of destruction and a weapon of terror.’
      • ‘The reasons for eliminating terror are clear, and speak to simple self-preservation.’
      • ‘A schoolboy was today behind bars for subjecting a family to a campaign of terror and intimidation.’
      • ‘An armed robber who waged a campaign of terror against businesses in Manchester has been jailed for life.’
    2. 1.2[in singular]A person or thing that causes extreme fear.
      ‘his unyielding scowl became the terror of the Chicago mob’
      • ‘They were the terrors of every 7 - Eleven parking lot, the most feared guests at every house party.’
      • ‘Bumped into old East Londoner Peter Dyter - a second year who was the terror of Merriman new boys.’
      • ‘At nineteen, Jeremiah McAuley was a thief and the terror of the New York waterfront.’
      demon, fiend, devil, monster
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    3. 1.3The period of the French Revolution between mid 1793 and July 1794 when the ruling Jacobin faction, dominated by Robespierre, ruthlessly executed anyone considered a threat to their regime.
      Also called reign of terror
  • 2informal A person, especially a child, who causes trouble or annoyance.

    ‘placid and obedient in their parents' presence, but holy terrors when left alone’
    • ‘If you believe children should be seen and not heard, it may be best to avoid visiting during the school holidays - when tiny terrors abound.’
    • ‘Thankfully, my own little terrors decided to play fair on New Year's Day and let me have a bit of a lie-in until 8.45 am.’
    • ‘When everyone was done, and the two little terrors had both used the rest room, we went back to the RV and set off again.’
    • ‘Colin and I were from totally different upbringings but we really clicked and we were both just little terrors.’
    • ‘They are the touchline terrors whose aggression and foul language is matched only by the players on the pitch.’
    • ‘The three Mexican terrors know and respect the Belfast man, who lives and trains in the boxing crossroads of Las Vegas.’
    • ‘Parents will also be sent home with a relaxation tape to help them unwind after a stressful day with their teenage terrors.’
    • ‘As a public service, here are some bright ideas to keep those tiny tot terrors away.’
    rascal, devil, imp, monkey, wretch, scamp, mischief-maker, troublemaker
    View synonyms


  • have (or hold) no terrors for someone

    • Not frighten or worry someone.

      • ‘Giovanna's coloratura holds no terrors for her, and the assurance of her technique - every note is hit dead on - is matched only by her assured interpretation.’
      • ‘Prokofiev's daunting cluster chords and rapid fire pianistic flourishes held no terrors for her.’
      • ‘The open pan of the valley had no terrors for us in daylight.’
      • ‘This gruelling three and a half miles will hold no terrors for Scotton Green, who gave notice that his winning turn was near at Catterick last month when he chased home Ballystone.’
      • ‘Of course I'm concerned about getting it right, but it holds no terrors for me because I have played Lear, and Lear is the most difficult of all.’
      • ‘So taking the Kildare job really held no terrors for Nolan?’
      • ‘A former high-class hurdler, Deep Water has always looked as though fences would hold no terrors for him.’
      • ‘Other than minor episodes like this, nighttime holds no terrors for them.’
      • ‘True, it's one of Verdi's most demanding tenor parts, but the notes obviously hold no terrors for Licitra.’


Late Middle English: from Old French terrour, from Latin terror, from terrere frighten.