Definition of nerve in English:

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Pronunciation: /nəːv/


1A whitish fibre or bundle of fibres in the body that transmits impulses of sensation to the brain or spinal cord, and impulses from these to the muscles and organs: the optic nerve
More example sentences
  • Once you're infected, the virus spreads from your muscle to your peripheral nerves to your spinal cord and brain.
  • The axons of both classes of interneuron enter the brain via the ocellar nerve, which also carries the axons of efferent neurons.
  • The sciatic nerve is the largest nerve in the body.
nerve fibre
technical axon
2 (one's nerve or one's nerves) One’s steadiness and courage in a demanding situation: an amazing journey which tested her nerves to the full he kept his nerve and won five games in a row
More example sentences
  • So at this precise moment where others would lose their nerve, bottle and audience, he did what separates mere amateurs from The Greats like himself.
  • While the 34-year-old golf unknown kept his nerve on a tough final day at Rochester, the shakers and movers of world golf crumbled behind him.
  • But it's so easy to lose your nerve and your voice to the people who are shouting the loudest, even if you know in your heart what they are shouting is garbage.
self-confidence, confidence, assurance, self-assurance, coolness, cool-headedness, self-possession;
courage, bravery, pluck, pluckiness, boldness, courageousness, braveness, intrepidity, intrepidness, fearlessness, valour, daring, dauntlessness, doughtiness, gameness;
determination, strength of character, firmness of purpose, will power, spirit, backbone, fortitude, mettle, heart, endurance, tenacity, resolution, resoluteness, stout-heartedness, steadfastness, staunchness, hardihood
informal grit, guts, spunk, gumption, gutsiness
British informal bottle, ballsiness
North American informal moxie, cojones, sand
vulgar slang balls
3 (nerves) Feelings of nervousness: his first-night nerves soon disappeared
More example sentences
  • I don't normally get stage fright or nerves before a performance but today I'm like a child on Christmas Eve.
  • First-night nerves aside, what she fears most is being left alone… without her Tim.
  • He was visibly, rather endearingly, anxious, shaking with nerves at some points; she kept erupting into fits of maniacal chuckles at some secret joke.
anxiety, tension, nervousness, nervous tension, strain, tenseness, stress, worry, cold feet;
apprehensiveness, apprehension, jumpiness, fright
informal butterflies (in one's stomach), collywobbles, the jitters, the willies, the heebie-jeebies, the shakes, the jumps, jim-jams, the yips
British informal the (screaming) abdabs/habdabs
Australian rhyming slang Joe Blakes
4 [mass noun] informal Impudence or audacity: he had the nerve to insult my cooking [in singular]: she’s got a nerve wearing that short skirt with those legs
More example sentences
  • He, that horrible horrible man, had the nerve to nuzzle her neck!
  • Someone even had the nerve to ask me why I did what I did that morning, suggesting there was something odd or wrong in my daringly unconventional and intensely original appearance.
  • I haven't had the nerve to tell her I'm also crushing on him.
audacity, cheek, barefaced cheek, effrontery, gall, temerity, presumption, presumptuousness, boldness, brazenness, impudence, impertinence, insolence, pertness, forwardness, front, arrogance, cockiness
informal face, neck, brass neck, brass, sauce
North American informal chutzpah
informal, dated hide
British informal, dated crust
rare procacity, assumption
5 Botany A prominent unbranched rib in a leaf, especially in the midrib of the leaf of a moss.


(nerve oneself)
Brace oneself mentally to face a demanding situation: she nerved herself to enter the room
More example sentences
  • She developed a particular interest in helping to update the Internet pages and she seemed to be nerving herself to buy her first computer so that she could get on the Internet at home.
  • I concentrated on an image of Autumn's exquisite, frightened visage, nerving myself.
  • They flinch at the sound of that laugh, but they keep edging forward, nerving themselves for the final rush.
brace oneself, steel oneself, summon/gather/screw up/muster one's courage, screw one's courage to the sticking place, gear oneself up, prepare oneself, get in the right frame of mind;
fortify oneself, bolster oneself
informal psych oneself up
literary gird (up) one's loins



a bag (or bundle) of nerves

informal Someone who is extremely anxious or tense: when her relationship started getting serious, she became a bag of nerves
More example sentences
  • I think it's odd how a succession of good, competent defenders have turned into bags of nerves who make mistakes within a month of playing next to Bramble.
  • The character on bass, who I believe is Eric Melvin from NOFX, makes a fine MC, nicely managing the exits and entrances of various drunkards, narcissists, and bags of nerves.

get on someone's nerves

informal Irritate someone.
Example sentences
  • This boyfriend's clothes get on your nerves because you have to find something safe to be irritated by, rather than him in general.
  • The wind howling was really getting on her nerves, and if she didn't drown it out soon, she was going to start yelling at it.
  • If I had my way, there really would be no problem with cuffing these kids round the ear if they got on your nerves.
irritate, annoy, irk, anger, bother, vex, provoke, displease, upset, exasperate, infuriate, gall, get/put someone's back up, put out, pique, rankle with, nettle, needle, ruffle someone's feathers, stroke someone's hair the wrong way, make someone's hackles rise, try someone's patience;
jar on, grate on;
British  rub up the wrong way
informal aggravate, get, get to, bug, miff, peeve, rile, get under someone's skin, get in someone's hair, get up someone's nose, hack off, get someone's goat
British informal nark, get on someone's wick, give someone the hump, wind up, get across
North American informal rankle, ride, gravel
vulgar slang piss off
British vulgar slang get on someone's tits
rare exacerbate, hump, rasp

have nerves of steel

Not be easily upset or frightened.
Example sentences
  • You also have to have nerves of steel as you're followed about the shop floor by posses of devilishly stylish assistants who look as thought they could moonlight as supermodels; they have enough attitude to reduce the timid to tears.
  • Investors in companies involved in digital music technology need to have nerves of steel as share prices are notoriously volatile, according to analysts.
  • I have nerves of steel and the flinty-eyed steadiness of a hit man; in general, but particularly in corner shops in Peckham.

live on one's nerves (or one's nerve ends)

Be extremely anxious or tense: a frenetic match which had 24,500 fans living on their nerve ends
More example sentences
  • But he also gives an insight into the thrill of living on your nerves, often literally running for your life, with the almost constant adrenalin rush of chasing a story.
  • But they had to live on their nerves at times in the second half after a double half-time substitution gave Charlton a shot in the arm.
  • I live on my nerves and I am also a complete insomniac - I can be up all night.

strain every nerve

Make every possible effort.
From the earlier sense of nerve as 'tendon, sinew'
Example sentences
  • The organisers and the office-bearers have strained every nerve possible to make the tournament a resounding success.
  • A high operations tempo means that generals, understandably, strain every nerve to keep frontline units manned with the best people - even if that scants the educational system of teachers and top students.
  • Even at this late stage we want to strain every nerve to avoid military action.

touch (or hit) a nerve (or a raw nerve)

Provoke a reaction by referring to a sensitive topic.
Example sentences
  • You've touched a nerve with this topic and it smarts.
  • When discussions about ‘vision’ spiral out from the rarefied policy circles of Washington into the editorial pages of mainstream newspapers, you know that topic has hit a nerve.
  • Boutin's comments touched a nerve that was already close to the surface, and my observations are directed towards a greater cultural issue.

war of nerves

A struggle in which opponents try to wear each other down by psychological means.
Example sentences
  • The clubs have started a mutual war of nerves, accusing each other of fixing matches and corrupting referees.
  • War in the jungle is very largely a war of nerves.
  • You've waged a war of nerves, but you can't crush the kingdom



Pronunciation: /nəːvd/
[usually in combination]: he was steely-nerved after the accident
More example sentences
  • I look up at the circles traced by a great swinging, lurching bucket and its nerved riders, and the playing track's identity comes to me: Rod Stewart's ‘Downtown Train’.


Late Middle English (also in the sense 'tendon, sinew'): from Latin nervus; related to Greek neuron 'nerve' (see neuron).

Words that rhyme with nerve

conserve, curve, Deneuve, derv, hors d'oeuvre, observe, roman-fleuve, serve, subserve, swerve, verve

For editors and proofreaders

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