Definition of hostage in English:

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Pronunciation: /ˈhästij/


A person seized or held as security for the fulfillment of a condition: the kidnapper had instructed the hostage’s family to drop the ransom at noon
More example sentences
  • The blasts also triggered chaos inside the building, which a number of hostages seized upon as their cue to escape.
  • Most of the child hostages who were seized by terrorists were reported to be alive.
  • Yes, we cannot really impose on him a condition to leave his family behind as hostages.
victim, abductee, prey;
human shield, pawn, instrument



hold (or take) someone hostage

Seize and keep someone as a hostage: they were held hostage by armed rebels taken hostage at gunpoint
More example sentences
  • They seize the recruits and hold them hostage for a few hours.
  • It's like the Stockholm Syndrome where hostages imprint on the people who hold them hostage and fight against their rescuers.
  • They hold you hostage and feed you horrible fattening food you would never eat anywhere else.

a hostage to fortune

An act, commitment, or remark that is regarded as unwise because it invites trouble or could prove difficult to live up to: making objectives explicit is to give a hostage to fortune
More example sentences
  • This brave statement may yet prove to be a hostage to fortune.
  • They might pass something that proves an electoral liability or makes a minister a hostage to fortune.
  • There is no point in producing a blog if it is not honest and open but politicians are wary beasts because we are all hostages to fortune and we don't want to give our opponents ammunition.


Middle English: from Old French, based on late Latin obsidatus 'the state of being a hostage' (the earliest sense in English), from Latin obses, obsid- 'hostage'.

  • The word hostage has no connection with host ( see hospital) in any of its uses—it goes back to Latin ob ‘towards, against’ and sedere ‘to sit’, used to mean ‘the state of being a hostage’. Originally an ally or enemy would hand over a hostage as security for the fulfilment of an undertaking. Now hostages are ‘taken’ as well as ‘held’, and are very seldom handed over voluntarily. In a hostage to fortune, the word fortune means ‘fate’, with the idea being that future events are no longer under a person's control but in the hands of fate. In a rather jaundiced reflection on marriage the English philosopher Francis Bacon wrote in 1625: ‘He that hath wife and children, hath given hostages to fortune; for they are impediments to great enterprises, either of virtue, or of mischief.’

For editors and proofreaders

Syllabification: hos·tage

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