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[nahyt-mair] /ˈnaɪtˌmɛər/
a terrifying dream in which the dreamer experiences feelings of helplessness, extreme anxiety, sorrow, etc.
a condition, thought, or experience suggestive of a nightmare:
the nightmare of his years in prison.
(formerly) a monster or evil spirit believed to oppress persons during sleep.
Origin of nightmare
1250-1300; Middle English; see night, mare2
1. phantasmagoria. See dream. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the Web for nightmare
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • She was seeing, as in a nightmare, the incidents of a night that was hardly six weeks past.

    The Eternal City Hall Caine
  • The dread of French domination seems to have haunted him like a nightmare.

    Biographical Sketches Nathaniel Hawthorne
  • I'm glad we don't have to see him often, he'd give me the nightmare.

  • So a nightmare of thought teemed through his brain as he rode.

    The Law-Breakers Ridgwell Cullum
  • Suppose the nightmare dreamed itself out to its horrible conclusion.

    Mortal Coils Aldous Huxley
British Dictionary definitions for nightmare


a terrifying or deeply distressing dream
  1. an event or condition resembling a terrifying dream: the nightmare of shipwreck
  2. (as modifier): a nightmare drive
a thing that is feared
(formerly) an evil spirit supposed to harass or suffocate sleeping people
Derived Forms
nightmarish, adjective
nightmarishly, adverb
nightmarishness, noun
Word Origin
C13 (meaning: incubus; C16: bad dream): from night + Old English mare, mære evil spirit, from Germanic; compare Old Norse mara incubus, Polish zmora, French cauchemar nightmare
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for nightmare

late 13c., "an evil female spirit afflicting sleepers with a feeling of suffocation," compounded from night + mare (3) "goblin that causes nightmares, incubus." Meaning shifted mid-16c. from the incubus to the suffocating sensation it causes. Sense of "any bad dream" first recorded 1829; that of "very distressing experience" is from 1831. Cognate with Middle Dutch nachtmare, German Nachtmahr.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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nightmare in Medicine

nightmare night·mare (nīt'mâr')

  1. A dream arousing feelings of intense fear, horror, and distress.

  2. An event or experience that is intensely distressing.

The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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