Intermediate+ Word of the Day: falter

falter (verb, noun) /ˈfɔltɚ/ LISTEN

Don't falter!

To falter is a verb that means ‘to hesitate or waver in action, purpose, or intent,’ ‘to speak with doubt or hesitation,’ or, when we are talking about someone’s voice or speech, ‘to be unsteady or wavering.’ In relation to movement, it means ‘to walk or move unsteadily.’ If machines or other devices falter, it means that they stop working smoothly. As a noun, falter is an unsteadiness of voice or action.

Example sentences

  • George wanted to ask the boss for a raise, but his courage faltered.
  • The speaker faltered over the opening sentences of her speech.
  • The boy's voice faltered as he told his parents what he had done.
  • The exhausted hiker faltered a little over the rough ground.
  • The car's engine faltered and then stopped completely.
  • A slight falter in Lisa's voice betrayed her anxiety.

In pop culture

Listen to Cab Calloway singing “Don’t Falter at the Altar” here:

Commonly confused with

Don’t confuse falter with flatter. It’s an easy mistake (especially when you type), but to flatter means ‘to give someone a compliment or praise.’

Other forms

faltering (adjective), falteringly (adverb), unfaltering


Falter, meaning ‘to stagger or totter,’ dates back to the mid-14th century. The origin of the Middle English verb falteren is uncertain. Some linguists believe that it came from a Scandinavian language, such as the Old Norse faltrast or faltrask (‘to bother with’ or ‘to be troubled with,’ as well as ‘to be burdened’ or ‘to hesitate’). Others think it may have originated as a frequentative of the verb fold, which was sometimes used figuratively to mean that someone’s legs buckled under them. The sense ‘to stammer’ has been used since the early 15th century. The figurative senses ‘to hesitate or waver’ and ‘to speak with doubt or hesitation’ both date back to the 15th century, and have now become the most common uses. The noun comes from the verb, and dates back to the late 15th century.

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