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[ten-shuh n] /ˈtɛn ʃən/
the act of stretching or straining.
the state of being stretched or strained.
mental or emotional strain; intense, suppressed suspense, anxiety, or excitement.
a strained relationship between individuals, groups, nations, etc.
(not in current use) pressure, especially of a vapor.
  1. the longitudinal deformation of an elastic body that results in its elongation.
  2. the force producing such deformation.
Electricity. electromotive force; potential.
Machinery. a device for stretching or pulling something.
a device to hold the proper tension on the material being woven in a loom.
verb (used with object)
to subject (a cable, belt, tendon, or the like) to tension, especially for a specific purpose.
Origin of tension
1525-35; < Latin tēnsiōn- (stem of tēnsiō) a stretching. See tense1, -ion
Related forms
tensional, adjective
tensionless, adjective
overtension, noun
supertension, noun Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018.
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Examples from the Web for tension
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • The great bow creaked and groaned and the cord vibrated with the tension.

    The White Company Arthur Conan Doyle
  • Dick, too, had felt the tension of an emotion far beyond that of the usual things.

    Within the Law Marvin Dana
  • It seemed to relieve the tension drawn by the other woman's torment.

    Within the Law Marvin Dana
  • There was some tension of mind or muscle that kept sleep far from him.

    The Rock of Chickamauga Joseph A. Altsheler
  • Whether this tension was felt by the Honourable George, I had no means of knowing.

    Ruggles of Red Gap Harry Leon Wilson
British Dictionary definitions for tension


the act of stretching or the state or degree of being stretched
mental or emotional strain; stress
a situation or condition of hostility, suspense, or uneasiness
(physics) a force that tends to produce an elongation of a body or structure
  1. voltage, electromotive force, or potential difference
  2. (in combination): high-tension, low-tension
a device for regulating the tension in a part, string, thread, etc, as in a sewing machine
(knitting) the degree of tightness or looseness with which a person knits
Derived Forms
tensional, adjective
tensionless, adjective
Word Origin
C16: from Latin tensiō, from tendere to strain
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 tension

1530s, "a stretched condition," from Middle French tension, from Latin tensionem (nominative tensio) "a stretching" (in Medieval Latin "a struggle, contest"), noun of state from tensus, past participle of tendere "to stretch," from PIE root *ten- "stretch" (see tenet). The sense of "nervous strain" is first recorded 1763. The meaning "electromotive force" (in high-tension wires) is recorded from 1802.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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tension in Medicine

tension ten·sion (těn'shən)
Abbr. T

  1. The act or process of stretching something tight.

  2. The condition of so being stretched.

  3. A force tending to stretch or elongate something.

  4. The partial pressure of a gas, especially dissolved in a liquid such as blood.

  5. Mental, emotional, or nervous strain.

  6. Barely controlled hostility or a strained relationship between people or groups.

The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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tension in Science
  1. A force that tends to stretch or elongate something.

  2. An electrical potential (voltage), especially as measured in electrical components such as transformers or power lines involved in the transmission of electrical power.

The American Heritage® Science Dictionary
Copyright © 2002. Published by Houghton Mifflin. All rights reserved.
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