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From Middle English falteren (to stagger), further origin unknown. Possibly from a North Germanic source[1] such as Old Norse faltrask (be encumbered). May also be a frequentative of fold, although the change from d to t is unusual.




  1. unsteadiness.



falter (third-person singular simple present falters, present participle faltering, simple past and past participle faltered)

  1. To waver or be unsteady; to weaken or trail off.
    • (Can we date this quote?) Wiseman
      He found his legs falter.
    • 2018, James Lambert, “A multitude of ‘lishes’: The nomenclature of hybridity”, in English World-Wide[1], page 18:
      Considering the results of the study, today John may be buoyed at the clear trend of increasing numbers of new “lishes” for each successive decade since the 1950s, and the fact that nothing in the data suggests this trend is likely to falter.
  2. (transitive, intransitive) To stammer; to utter with hesitation, or in a weak and trembling manner.
    • (Can we date this quote?) Byron
      And here he faltered forth his last farewell.
    • (Can we date this quote?) John Milton
      With faltering speech and visage incomposed.
  3. To fail in distinctness or regularity of exercise; said of the mind or of thought.
    • (Can we date this quote?) I. Taylor
      Here indeed the power of distinct conception of space and distance falters.
  4. To stumble.
  5. (figuratively) To lose faith or vigor; to doubt or abandon (a cause).
  6. To hesitate in purpose or action.
  7. To cleanse or sift, as barley.
    (Can we find and add a quotation of Halliwell to this entry?)



  1. ^ falter” in Douglas Harper, Online Etymology Dictionary, 2001–2019.