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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 tenseness
Historical Examples
  • When the crowd surged forward to bid on some choice item, the tenseness and excitement of the group would grip Jim too.

    Ticktock and Jim Keith Robertson
  • He put it to his ear to try its tenseness as a minstrel tunes his harp.

  • There was a tenseness about her manner, a restraint in her tone, which seemed to speak of some emotional crisis.

    A Lost Leader E. Phillips Oppenheim
  • The tenseness of the appeal was broken by the sharp ringing of the telephone bell.

    The Silent Bullet Arthur B. Reeve
  • There was a tenseness in the air which made men's skin tingle.

    Scattergood Baines Clarence Budington Kelland
  • There was a tenseness in Hurstwood's voice and manner which could but have some effect.

    Sister Carrie Theodore Dreiser
  • Their tenseness made the oldest trick in the world serve Lockley's purpose.

    Operation Terror William Fitzgerald Jenkins
  • He could feel the tenseness build up again in the compartment.

    Decision Frank M. Robinson
  • Green is only a certain rapidity of vibration, hardness a degree of tenseness in cohering.

    Instigations Ezra Pound
  • Lingard, relaxing the tenseness of his stare, looked at the young man, thoughtfully.

    The Rescue Joseph Conrad
British Dictionary definitions for tenseness


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 tenseness



"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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tenseness 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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