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From the Middle English ransoun, from the Old French raençon, from stem of Latin redemptio. Entered English ca. the 13th century. Doublet of redemption.


  • IPA(key): /ˈɹænsəm/
  • (file)
  • Hyphenation: ran‧som


ransom (usually uncountable, plural ransoms)

  1. Money paid for the freeing of a hostage.
    They were held for two million dollars ransom.
    They were held to ransom.
    • 1667, John Milton, “Book XII”, in Paradise Lost. [], London: [] [Samuel Simmons], [], OCLC 228722708; republished as Paradise Lost in Ten Books: [], London: Basil Montagu Pickering [], 1873, OCLC 230729554:
      Thy ransom paid, which man from death redeems.
    • 1612, John Davies, Discoverie of the True Causes why Ireland was never entirely subdued
      His captivity in Austria, and the heavy ransom he paid for his liberty.
    • 2010, Caroline Alexander, The War That Killed Achilles: The True Story of Homer's Iliad:
      As rich as was the ransom Priam paid for Hektor, Hermes says, his remaining sons at Troy “'would give three times as much ransom / for you, who are alive, were Atreus' son Agamemnon / to recognize you.'”
  2. The release of a captive, or of captured property, by payment of a consideration.
    prisoners hopeless of ransom
  3. (historical, law, UK) A sum paid for the pardon of some great offence and the discharge of the offender; also, a fine paid in lieu of corporal punishment.

Usage notes[edit]

  • "held for ransom" is much more common in the US, "held to ransom" in the UK.

Derived terms[edit]



ransom (third-person singular simple present ransoms, present participle ransoming, simple past and past participle ransomed)

  1. (obsolete) To deliver, especially in context of sin or relevant penalties. [14th century]
  2. To pay a price to set someone free from captivity or punishment.
    to ransom prisoners from an enemy
  3. To exact a ransom (payment) in exchange for the freedom of.
    • 2017, Bruce Oliver Newsome, James W. Stewart, Aarefah Mosavi, Countering New(est) Terrorism: Hostage-Taking, Kidnapping, and Active Violence — Assessing, Negotiating, and Assaulting, CRC Press (→ISBN):
      Terrorists will continue to hold few detainees in undisclosed locations in order to ransom them for money or some other material profit, []


See also[edit]


Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary: Tenth Edition 1997