Word of the Day: sting

sting (verb, noun) /stɪŋ/ LISTEN

To sting means ‘to hurt someone with a pointed part of the body,’ like insects do. It can also mean ‘to hurt by means of contact,’ like some plants do. It means ‘to make someone feel a sharp pain’ and, figuratively, it can mean both ‘to cause someone to feel anger or resentment.’ Informally, sting means ‘to cheat.’ As a noun, a sting is the pointed part of insects and animals that stings, and it is also both the act of stinging and the pain caused by stinging.

Example sentences

  • Bees sting only when they feel threatened, but wasps are more aggressive and may sting without provocation.
  • If you grasp a nettle firmly, it won't sting you.
  • The fumes stung Ian's eyes and throat.
  • Nancy's unkind remarks stung Will.
  • That insult really stings.
  • The criminals stung the old lady for a lot of money.
  • The knife was so sharp, Helen didn't realize she had cut herself until she felt the sting of it a few seconds later.

Multi-word forms

sting in the tail (UK): an unpleasant turn of events. Example: “John’s final words to her were the sting in the tail of what should have been an enjoyable evening.”

Additional Information

A sting is also a secret operation by undercover police, who hide their identities as police officers. They then appear to engage in illegal activity, in an attempt to infiltrate criminal groups and find evidence of actual crimes. Example: “Five drug dealers were arrested as a result of the police sting.”

Did you know?

In English, only insects with pointed stings are actually said to sting. Other insects, like mosquitoes, that suck blood from humans through sharp, tube-like mouth parts are said to bite.

Other forms

stinger (noun), stingingly (adverb)


Sting has been used in English since before the year 900. In Old English, the verb stingan meant ‘to pierce,’ and evolved into the Middle English verb stingen, and later to sting, as we use it now. The noun has also been used since before the year 900, and comes from the verb. It is related to the Old Norse verb stinga, ‘to pierce,’ and to the Gothic stem -stangan (in usstangan, meaning ‘to pull out’).

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