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A stray dog wanders the streets.
A stray kitten in Manila, Philippines.


  • enPR: strā, IPA(key): /stɹeɪ/
  • (file)
  • Rhymes: -eɪ

Etymology 1[edit]

From Middle English stray, strey, from Anglo-Norman estray, stray, Old French estrai, from the verb (see below).


stray (plural strays)

  1. Any domestic animal that has no enclosure nor proper place and company, but that instead wanders at large or is lost; an estray.
  2. One who is lost, literally or figuratively.
  3. An act of wandering off or going astray.
  4. (historical) An area of common land for use by domestic animals generally.
  5. (radio) An instance of atmospheric interference.
    • 1926, Popular Radio, volume 9, page 191:
      This invention relates broadly to radio communication, but more particularly to a radio receiving system used for the reception of high frequency current signals wherever they are subject to interference from "static" or strays of an untuned or aperiodic character.
    • 1942, John C. Mathisson, Radio Acoustic Ranging, page 652:
      Because of their shortness, such signals are usually easy to distinguish from the bomb returns but, when such a stray is recorded just before the bomb return, too close to be distinguished by ear []
    • 1976, IEEE Power Engineering Society, Nuclear Power: Health, Safety, Waste Disposal, page 20:
      Electromagnetic interference EMI, radio interference RI, television interference TVI, and radio frequency interference RFI, can all be described as a confusion to received radio signals due to strays and undesirable signals.
  6. Ellipsis of stray bullet.
    • 1993, “Just Another Day”, in Black Reign, performed by Queen Latifah:
      Hit by a stray, but I pray that there's a hood in heaven
Related terms[edit]

Etymology 2[edit]

From Middle English strayen, partly from Old French estraier, from Vulgar Latin via strata[1], and partly from Middle English strien, streyen, streyȝen (to spread, scatter), from Old English strēġan (to strew).


stray (third-person singular simple present strays, present participle straying, simple past and past participle strayed)

  1. (intransitive) To wander, as from a direct course; to deviate, or go out of the way.
  2. (intransitive) To wander from company or outside proper limits; to rove or roam at large; to go astray.
  3. (intransitive) To wander from the path of duty or rectitude; to err.
    • November 2 2014, Daniel Taylor, "Sergio Agüero strike wins derby for Manchester City against 10-man United,"
      It was a derby that left Manchester United a long way back in Manchester City’s wing-mirrors and, in the worst moments, straying dangerously close to being their own worst enemy.
  4. (transitive) To cause to stray; lead astray.
    • c. 1594 (date written), William Shakespeare, “The Comedie of Errors”, in Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies [] (First Folio), London: [] Isaac Iaggard, and Ed[ward] Blount, published 1623, →OCLC, [Act V, scene i], line 51:
      Hath not else his eye / Strayed his affection in unlawful love,
    • 1899, John Buchan, No Man's Land:
      To ease myself I was compelled to leave my basket behind me, trusting to return and find it, if I should ever reach safety and discover on what pathless hill I had been strayed.

Etymology 3[edit]

From Middle English stray, from the noun (see above).


stray (not comparable)

  1. Having gone astray; strayed; wandering
    The alley is full of stray cats rummaging through the garbage.
    • 2017 April 6, Samira Shackle, “On the frontline with Karachi’s ambulance drivers”, in the Guardian[1]:
      The organisation fills many gaps left by the state, operating a dizzying array of services, including homes for victims of domestic violence, food banks and a shelter for stray animals.
  2. In the wrong place; misplaced.
    a stray comma
    a stray bullet
Derived terms[edit]


  1. ^ Douglas Harper (2001–2023), “stray”, in Online Etymology Dictionary.