Definition of ransom in English:

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Pronunciation: /ˈrans(ə)m/


1A sum of money demanded or paid for the release of a captive: the kidnappers demanded a ransom [mass noun]: he was demanding millions of pounds in ransom
More example sentences
  • All but one have now been released, but only after millions of dollars in ransoms were paid.
  • He maintained that he had no money to pay the ransom demanded and that it was a case of mistaken identity.
  • Others are kidnapped and killed to extort lucrative ransoms from their families.
pay-off, payment, price
1.1 [mass noun] The holding or freeing of a captive in return for payment of a ransom: the capture and ransom of the king
More example sentences
  • It was he who through his manipulation and deception engineered the capture and ransom of my beloved daughter.
  • The objectification of women is further underscored by Bacon's seizing them as captives for ransom.
  • Exchange or ransom was to be strictly according to rank, as specified in elaborate tables.
release, freedom, setting free, deliverance, liberation, rescue, redemption, restoration


[with object]
1Obtain the release of (a captive) by paying a ransom: the lord was captured in war and had to be ransomed
More example sentences
  • The enemy was allowed, if they could, to ransom their enslaved women and children.
  • He repeatedly had to ransom prisoners taken in the course of Lombard raids, who would otherwise have been sold off as slaves.
  • No amnesty may be granted to him, nor can he be ransomed.
1.1Hold (a captive) and demand a ransom for their release: an English force burnt the village and ransomed the inhabitants
More example sentences
  • So some pirates now take hostages instead of ships or cargo, and ransom them for tens of thousands of dollars.
  • It's just an incredibly natural film where Robert Shaw heads up a crew of four men who hijack a New York City subway train and ransom the passengers for a million dollars.
  • Suspecting the car may be the one being ransomed, police stopped Ali Jaan before he got into the car.
1.2Release (a captive) after receiving a ransom: they were all ransomed and returned unharmed
More example sentences
  • The ransomed Sarah was delivered to the Sisters at La Chine and was baptized a Catholic at age fifteen.
  • Being ransomed to him would work out best for everyone.
obtain the release of, exchange for a ransom, buy the freedom of, release, free, deliver, liberate, rescue, redeem, restore to freedom



hold someone to ransom

Hold someone captive and demand payment for their release.
Example sentences
  • Some of them have recently made life difficult for the British servicemen there, by abducting 11 of their number and effectively holding them to ransom.
  • Earlier this month, another man was arrested for planning to kidnap a Barcelona player so he could hold him to ransom to pay off his business debt.
  • A Yorkshire businessman tried to hold his own family to ransom after claiming he had been kidnapped from his kebab shop.
1.1Demand concessions from a person or organization by threatening damaging action: the company would be powerful enough to hold governments to ransom
More example sentences
  • He also suggested the company had been held to ransom by its creditor banks.
  • Firstly it would free us from the oil barons who are holding us to ransom.
  • The universities are held to ransom by the threat that a failure to boost state school intake will mean financial penalties.

a king's ransom

A huge amount of money: perfume which cost a king’s ransom per ounce
More example sentences
  • A friend lost a king's ransom and asked me to look into the circumstances, and what I found was disturbing.
  • While showering Taylor with jewels worth a king's ransom, he also gave generously to friends such as Smith.
  • It is hardly a king's ransom, but it could make all the difference.
a fortune, a small fortune, a huge amount, a vast sum, millions, billions
informal a mint, a bundle, a packet, a pretty penny, a tidy sum
British informal a bomb, loadsamoney, shedloads
North American informal big bucks, big money, gazillions
Australian informal big bickies


Middle English: from Old French ransoun (noun), ransouner (verb), from Latin redemptio(n-) 'ransoming, releasing' (see redemption). Early use also occurred in theological contexts expressing 'deliverance' and 'atonement'.

  • In medieval times a captured enemy might be released if a sum of money, or ransom, was paid, and if you held them captive and demanded such a payment you were said to hold them to ransom. The word comes from the same Latin root as redeem (Late Middle English), and redemption (Middle English) redimere ‘buy back’. See also king

Words that rhyme with ransom

hansom, Ransome, transom

For editors and proofreaders

Line breaks: ran¦som

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