adjective, tens·er, tens·est.

  1. stretched tight, as a cord, fiber, etc.; drawn taut; rigid.
  2. in a state of mental or nervous strain; high-strung; taut: a tense person.
  3. characterized by a strain upon the nerves or feelings: a tense moment.
  4. Phonetics. pronounced with relatively tense tongue muscles; narrow.Compare lax(def 7).

verb (used with or without object), tensed, tens·ing.

  1. to make or become tense.


  1. a category of verbal inflection that serves chiefly to specify the time of the action or state expressed by the verb.
  2. a set of such categories or constructions in a particular language.
  3. the time, as past, present, or future, expressed by such a category.
  4. such categories or constructions, or their meanings collectively.


  1. stretched or stressed tightly; taut or rigid
  2. under mental or emotional strain
  3. producing mental or emotional straina tense day
  4. (of a speech sound) pronounced with considerable muscular effort and having relatively precise accuracy of articulation and considerable durationin English the vowel ( ) in “beam” is tense Compare lax (def. 4)


  1. (often foll by up) to make or become tense


  1. grammar a category of the verb or verbal inflections, such as present, past, and future, that expresses the temporal relations between what is reported in a sentence and the time of its utterance

v.“to make tense,” 1670s, from tense (adj.); intransitive sense of “to become tense” (often tense up) is recorded from 1946. Related: Tensed; tensing. adj.“stretched tight,” 1660s, from Latin tensus, past participle of tendere “to stretch” (see tenet). Sense of “in a state of nervous tension” is first recorded 1821. n.“form of a verb showing time of an action or state,” early 14c., tens “time,” also “tense of a verb” (late 14c.), from Old French tens “time” (11c.), from Latin tempus (see temporal). An inflectional (see inflection) form of verbs; it expresses the time at which the action described by the verb takes place. The major tenses are past, present, and future. The verb in “I sing” is in the present tense; in “I sang,” past tense; in “I will sing,” future tense. Other tenses are the present perfect (“I have sung”), the past perfect (“I had sung”), and the future perfect (“I will have sung”).

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