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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; republished as Paradise Lost in Ten Books: [], London: Basil Montagu Pickering [], 1873, →OCLC:
      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
    • a. 1701 (date written), John Dryden, “The First Book of Homer’s Ilias”, in The Miscellaneous Works of John Dryden, [], volume IV, London: [] J[acob] and R[ichard] Tonson, [], published 1760, →OCLC:
      Till the fair slave be rendered to her sire; And ransom-free restored to his abode
  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
    • c. 1587–1588, [Christopher Marlowe], Tamburlaine the Great. [] The First Part [], 2nd edition, part 1, London: [] [R. Robinson for] Richard Iones, [], published 1592, →OCLC; reprinted as Tamburlaine the Great (A Scolar Press Facsimile), Menston, Yorkshire, London: Scolar Press, 1973, →ISBN, (please specify the page):
      And gainſt the General we will lift our ſwords
      And either lanch his greedie thirſting throat,
      Or take him priſoner, and his chaine ſhall ſerue
      For Manackles, till he be ranſom’d home.
  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