There are 2 main definitions of tense in English:

Share this entry

tense 1

Line breaks: tense


1(Especially of a muscle) stretched tight or rigid: she tried to relax her tense muscles
More example sentences
  • She sighed and stretched her tense muscles.
  • All of his tense muscles were growing stiff and sore.
  • She ran her hands along Elisa's shoulders, smoothing her tense muscles.
taut, stretched tight, tight, rigid, stretched, strained, stiff
1.1 Phonetics (Of a speech sound, especially a vowel) pronounced with the vocal muscles stretched tight. The opposite of lax1.
Example sentences
  • Tense vowels tend to be peripheral and lax vowels closer to schwa, the neutral or central vowel.
2Unable to relax because of nervousness, anxiety, or stimulation: he was tense with excitement
More example sentences
  • Whereas she's relatively calm and relaxed, he's tense and anxious.
  • The slow, fluid movements help tense, stressed people relax.
  • I relaxed myself after being tense for a few minutes.
2.1Causing or characterized by anxiety and nervousness: they waited in tense silence relations between the two neighbouring states were tense
More example sentences
  • He was suddenly uneasy in the tense silence.
  • Nobody said anything for a while, creating an uneasy and tense silence.
  • A tense, uneasy silence fell over the room again.
anxious, nervous, on edge, edgy, strained, stressed, under a strain, under pressure, agitated, ill at ease, unrelaxed, in a state of nerves, in a state of agitation, fretful, uneasy, restless, worked up, keyed up, overwrought, highly strung, wrought up, strung out, jumpy, on tenterhooks, on pins and needles, with one's stomach in knots, fidgety, worried, apprehensive, upset, disturbed, panicky;
British  nervy
informal with butterflies in one's stomach, a bundle of nerves, jittery, twitchy, in a state, uptight, wired, het up, stressed out, white-knuckled
British informal strung up, stressy, windy
North American informal spooky, squirrelly
Australian/New Zealand informal toey
dated overstrung
nerve-racking, stressful, anxious, worrying, concerning, fraught, charged, strained, nail-biting, worrisome, difficult, uneasy, uncomfortable;
exciting, cliffhanging, knife-edge, dramatic, volatile, explosive
informal hairy, anxious-making, white-knuckle


[no object] Back to top  
1Become tense, typically through anxiety or nervousness: her body tensed up
More example sentences
  • I tensed up and squeezed her hand harder.
  • If you get too tensed up and let it get to you, that's counter-productive.
  • He used to get quite tensed up and panicky about things, but that is all in the past now.
1.1 [with object] Make (a muscle or one’s body) tight or rigid: carefully stretch and then tense your muscles
More example sentences
  • When we are stressed our body responds by tensing the muscles.
  • Every muscle in her body was tensed for the coming action.
  • Tense each body part for a moment and then relax it.
tighten, tauten, tense up, flex, contract, brace, stiffen;
screw up, knot, strain, stretch;
North American  squinch up


Pronunciation: /ˈtɛnsli/
Example sentences
  • Everyone watched tensely as he edged along the narrow ledge.
  • They wait tensely to see whether the outbreak will spread further.
  • The accused are led into the room and wait tensely for sentencing.
Pronunciation: /ˈtɛnsnəs/
Example sentences
  • High doses of caffeine are associated with anxiety and tenseness.
  • I feel a small but significant tenseness in my shoulders.
  • The tenseness that had suddenly appeared on his daughter's face worried him.
Pronunciation: /ˈtɛnsəti/
noun rare
Example sentences
  • I could tell that he had noticed my tensity.
  • His muscles seemed to loose their tensity and he crashed downward in a heap.
  • Note the tensity of expression with which the group is following his each and every word


Late 17th century: from Latin tensus 'stretched', from the verb tendere.

Words that rhyme with tense

cense, commence, common sense, condense, dense, dispense, expense, fence, hence, Hortense, immense, offence (US offense), pence, prepense, pretence (US pretense), sense, spence, suspense, thence, whence
Definition of tense in:
Share this entry

There are 2 main definitions of tense in English:

Share this entry
tense 2 Line breaks: tense


A set of forms taken by a verb to indicate the time (and sometimes also the continuance or completeness) of the action in relation to the time of the utterance: the future tense
More example sentences
  • At the moment I am trying to master 5 different tenses of verbs and also adverbs, pronouns and other vocabulary.
  • As the network learned, it began to generate ‘digged’ for ‘dug,’ regular past tenses of irregular verbs.
  • When my brain was filled with verb tenses, right triangles and pulmonary veins, there was no room for personal thoughts.


Example sentences
  • For example, Roderick Chisholm and A. N. Prior claim that the ‘is’ in the sentence ‘It's now midnight ‘is essentially present tensed because there is no translation using only tenseless verbs.’
  • If we want to construct a sentence which genuinely contains only B-series temporal expressions, then we must construct one whose verbs are tenseless.
  • Such a realist account is provided by static and tenseless theories of time. A static theory holds that the participation of time into the past, the present and the future depends on the perspective we human beings put on the world.


Middle English (in the general sense 'time'): from Old French tens, from Latin tempus 'time'.

Definition of tense in:
Share this entry

What do you find interesting about this word or phrase?

Comments that don't adhere to our Community Guidelines may be moderated or removed.

Subscribe to remove adverts and access premium resources