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[tens] /tɛns/
adjective, tenser, tensest.
stretched tight, as a cord, fiber, etc.; drawn taut; rigid.
in a state of mental or nervous strain; high-strung; taut:
a tense person.
characterized by a strain upon the nerves or feelings:
a tense moment.
Phonetics. pronounced with relatively tense tongue muscles; narrow.
Compare lax (def 7).
verb (used with or without object), tensed, tensing.
to make or become tense.
Origin of tense1
1660-70; < Latin tēnsus past participle of tendere to stretch; see tend1
Related forms
tensely, adverb
tenseness, noun
untensing, adjective Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the Web for tensely
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • "Why, I'd start at the very bottom; I'd work like anything, to succeed," she said tensely.

    A Star for a Night Elsie Janis
  • And Jim gazed back at Dennis as breathlessly and as tensely.

  • "If there was a single thing I could do," she said from her heart, "I would do it at any cost—" Her voice questioned him tensely.

    Destiny Charles Neville Buck
  • “You are only bringing pain upon yourself,” she said tensely.

    Colorado Jim George Goodchild
  • "Forgive my dwelling so tensely on the bill-of-fare," he said, when the waiter had gone.

    Jill the Reckless P. G. (Pelham Grenville) Wodehouse
  • Trembling with excitement and fear I tensely waited the coming of the visitor.

    City of Endless Night Milo Hastings
  • To humans, the tensely waiting woman would have seemed to be standing there in the moonlight, alone.

    Buff: A Collie and other dog-stories Albert Payson Terhune
  • On the evening I dropped in to see him, he was tensely nervous.

    Secret Armies John L. Spivak
  • He kept trying at this, with a mind so tensely bent to the mere horror that he could not for a moment strain away from it.

    The Daughter of the Storage William Dean Howells
British Dictionary definitions for tensely


stretched or stressed tightly; taut or rigid
under mental or emotional strain
producing mental or emotional strain: a tense day
(of a speech sound) pronounced with considerable muscular effort and having relatively precise accuracy of articulation and considerable duration: in English the vowel () in ``beam'' is tense Compare lax (sense 4)
(often foll by up) to make or become tense
Derived Forms
tensely, adverb
tenseness, noun
Word Origin
C17: from Latin tensus taut, from tendere to stretch


(grammar) a category of the verb or verbal inflections, such as present, past, and future, that expresses the temporal relations between what is reported in a sentence and the time of its utterance
Derived Forms
tenseless, adjective
Word Origin
C14: from Old French tens time, from Latin tempus
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 tensely



"stretched tight," 1660s, from Latin tensus, past participle of tendere "to stretch" (see tenet). Sense of "in a state of nervous tension" is first recorded 1821.


"form of a verb showing time of an action or state," early 14c., tens "time," also "tense of a verb" (late 14c.), from Old French tens "time" (11c.), from Latin tempus (see temporal).


"to make tense," 1670s, from tense (adj.); intransitive sense of "to become tense" (often tense up) is recorded from 1946. Related: Tensed; tensing.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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tensely in Culture

tense definition

An inflectional (see inflection) form of verbs; it expresses the time at which the action described by the verb takes place. The major tenses are past, present, and future. The verb in “I sing” is in the present tense; in “I sang,” past tense; in “I will sing,” future tense. Other tenses are the present perfect (“I have sung”), the past perfect (“I had sung”), and the future perfect (“I will have sung”).

The American Heritage® New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition
Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
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