When things feel so tight they might snap, that's tension. If you buy your girlfriend a vacuum cleaner when she wanted diamonds, you will experience tension. Just before she storms out of the room.

The noun tension has its Latin roots in tendere, which means to stretch, and tension occurs when something is stretched either physically or emotionally. Strained relations between countries can cause political tensions to rise. You can add tension to a rubber band by stretching it tight. You can release nervous tension by releasing that tension in the rubber band, when you shoot it at your brother.

Definitions of tension

n the action of stretching something tight

tension holds the belt in the pulleys”
Type of:
act of expanding by lengthening or widening

n the physical condition of being stretched or strained

“it places great tension on the leg muscles”
tautness, tenseness, tensity
show 6 types...
hide 6 types...
tone, tonicity, tonus
the elastic tension of living muscles, arteries, etc. that facilitate response to stimuli
extreme tonus; muscular rigidity; a common symptom in catatonic schizophrenia
muscle tone, muscular tonus
normal tonicity of the muscles
abnormally long muscular contractions; slow relaxation of a muscle after a contraction
hypertonia, hypertonicity, hypertonus
(of muscular tissue) the state of being hypertonic
hypotonia, hypotonicity, hypotonus
(of muscular tissue) the state of being hypotonic
Type of:
condition, status
a state at a particular time

n (physics) a stress that produces an elongation of an elastic physical body

“the direction of maximum tension moves asymptotically toward the direction of the shear”
Type of:
(physics) force that produces strain on a physical body

n a balance between and interplay of opposing elements or tendencies (especially in art or literature)

“there is a tension created between narrative time and movie time”
“there is a tension between these approaches to understanding history”
Type of:
a state of equilibrium

n feelings of hostility that are not manifest

“the diplomats' first concern was to reduce international tensions
latent hostility
Type of:
antagonism, enmity, hostility
a state of deep-seated ill-will

n (psychology) a state of mental or emotional strain or suspense

“he suffered from fatigue and emotional tension
stress, tenseness
nervous tension that causes an athlete to fail (especially causes golfers to miss short putts)
breaking point
(psychology) stress at which a person breaks down or a situation becomes crucial
Type of:
mental strain, nervous strain, strain
(psychology) nervousness resulting from mental stress

Sign up, it's free!

Whether you're a student, an educator, or a lifelong learner, Vocabulary.com can put you on the path to systematic vocabulary improvement.