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From Middle English unloken, unlouken, onlouken, from Old English onlūcan (to unlock), equivalent to un- +‎ lock. Cognate with Dutch ontluiken (to unlock).



unlock (third-person singular simple present unlocks, present participle unlocking, simple past and past participle unlocked)

  1. (transitive) To undo or open a lock or something locked by, for example, turning a key, or selecting a combination.
    I unlocked the door and walked in.
  2. (transitive) To obtain access to something; to meet the requirements of a security or protection system.
    I unlocked the dictionary article so I could edit it.
    This computer game is shareware, but you can pay for a code to unlock the full version.
    • 2013 July 20, “Welcome to the plastisphere”, in The Economist, volume 408, number 8845:
      Plastics are energy-rich substances, which is why many of them burn so readily. Any organism that could unlock and use that energy would do well in the Anthropocene. Terrestrial bacteria and fungi which can manage this trick are already familiar to experts in the field.
    • 2019 October, “Funding for 20tph East London line service”, in Modern Railways, page 18:
      The combination of the new station and road improvements is expected to unlock up to 14,000 new homes, with the council saying no more than 2,500 homes can be built at Beaulieu and north east Chelmsford without the station.
  3. (transitive, mobile telephony) To configure (a mobile phone) so that it is not bound to any particular carrier.
  4. (transitive) To disclose or reveal previously unknown knowledge or potential.
    The discovery of a clue unlocked the mystery.
    • 2022 April 14, Rupert Neate, quoting Elon Musk, “Elon Musk offers to buy Twitter for more than $40bn”, in The Guardian[1]:
      Twitter has extraordinary potential. I will unlock it.
  5. (intransitive) To be or become unfastened or unrestrained.
  6. (figurative) To make available.
    • 2020 May 20, Richard Clinnick, “Electrification key to decarbonisation”, in Rail, page 16:
      He also warned of the supply chain issues, stating: "Don't pretend you're going to unlock half a dozen [electrification] schemes simultaneously because you'll probably flood the supply chain, we don't have the capacity."
  7. To undermine something that has control over a situation; to find a way to counter or oppose.
    • 2023 March 26, Phil McNulty, “England 2-0 Ukraine”, in BBC Sport[2]:
      Saka's cross unlocked a well-organised Ukraine defence for Kane to pounce and set England on their way before producing a superb piece of individual skill to effectively end the contest.

Derived terms[edit]



unlock (plural unlocks)

  1. The act of unlocking something.
    • 1998, Steven Herberts, The Correctional Officer Inside Prisons, page 38:
      Unlike modern, automated prisons, each cell here was locked and unlocked manually with a large skeleton key. The first duty was to get a proper head count of each inmate, insuring each was alive. Once done, an unlock was conducted.
    • 2011, Ganesh Gopalakrishnan, Shaz Qadeer, Computer Aided Verification: 23rd International Conference:
      The instructions between a lock and an unlock form a critical section.
  2. (video games) An initially hidden feature that is made available to reward the player for some achievement.
    Synonym: unlockable (Noun)
    • 2012 October 11, Craig Pearson, “Hands On: Medal Of Honour Warfighter”, in Rock Paper Shotgun[3]:
      The other unlocks, like a grenade launcher or a sniper's steady ability, didn't fit into my playstyle.