Definition of ransom in English:


Line breaks: ran¦som
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] Back to top  
  • 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.
More 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.
Demand 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'.

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