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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.



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.
    • Sir J. Davies
      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 notesEdit

  • "held for ransom" is much more common in the US, "held to ransom" in the UK.

Derived termsEdit



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 alsoEdit


Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary: Tenth Edition 1997