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


  • IPA(key): /ˈɹænsəm/
  • (file)


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.
    • 1674, John Milton, Paradise Lost, Book XII:
      Thy ransom paid, which man from death redeems.
    • (Can we date this quote by Sir J. Davies and provide title, author's full name, and other details?)
      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
    (Can we find and add a quotation of Dryden to this entry?)
  3. (historical, law, Britain) 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.
    (Can we find and add a quotation of Blackstone to this entry?)

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. (14th century) To deliver, especially in context of sin or relevant penalties.
  2. To pay a price to set someone free from captivity or punishment.
    to ransom prisoners from an enemy
  3. To exact a ransom for, or a payment on.
    Such lands as he had rule of he ransomed them so grievously, and would tax the men two or three times in a year. — Berners.


See also[edit]


Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary: Tenth Edition 1997