Dutch has the verb zwijgen, which means remaining silent. Ik zwijg means I remain silent or I say nothing. It is also often used as an imperative, similar to shut up.

I have been discussing this with some native English speakers who have sound understanding of Dutch, and we couldn't come up with a verb in English.

Does it exist?

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    There is in French, as well, but not in English. Google translate translates se taire as "shut up", "keep mum", "hold one's tongue". Le Dictionnaire Larousse translates it as "to keep quiet" or "to fall silent". – Peter Shor May 27 '14 at 11:48
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    To silence is a verb. "I silence myself" is not too far removed. @PeterShor - are you thinking of se taire? I don't see how that is very different from Silence yourself! – anongoodnurse May 27 '14 at 12:01
  • Google translate also mentions "hush", but to me that sounds more like keeping a secret then to "shut up" – Andra May 27 '14 at 12:02
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    Keep in mind that, as a verb, to silence means to make (one) silent, not to be silent. Sometimes the noun silence is used by itself as a quasi-imperative: i.e. as short for I demand silence! – Anonym May 27 '14 at 13:42
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    There appears to be no such verb in modern English, but there are obsolete or archaic verbs: the OED lists to hust (last quotations from 16th century), to swie (last quotations from 13th century), and to hist (poetic, last quotations from 19th century). There is also the current dialect word to whisht (or wheesht), already mentioned in answers. – Senex May 28 '14 at 12:47

14 Answers 14


There is no single word to capture exactly what you're looking for.

First, the difficulties with some suggestions. You're looking for a single word for 'to remain silent'. Forcing in to a single word, the semantic nearby shorter terms don't really capture this well.

  • 'To silence' is a transitive verb — someone is making someone else be quiet. You can say 'to silence oneself' but that has a special ring to it, a very active restraint, too forceful.

  • 'Hush' is a command — it is rare in the non-imperative and then it is a transitive like 'to silence'.

  • 'Shut up' is very much a command like 'hush' and is a bit forceful and rude.

Now for the closest 'way' to say it. The translation of German 'schweigen'/Dutch 'zwijgen'/French 'se taire' is matched best by

'to keep quiet' or 'to remain quiet'.

which is an intransitive statement of state. For example:

"I was told it was a secret so I kept quiet"

"If my boss brings up the incident I'll remain quiet"

Other more colloquial phrasings are 'to keep ones mouth shut' or 'to keep mum'. All these can be used in an imperative manner but don't have to be.

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    'to silence' is to make a thing become silent, not to make it be silent or remain silent. – mc0e May 28 '14 at 8:44

hush (hʌʃ)
interj., v. hushed, hush•ing,
n. interj.

  1. (used as a command to be silent or quiet.) v.i.
  2. to become or be silent or quiet. v.t.
  3. to make silent; silence.
  4. to suppress mention of; keep concealed (often fol. by up): to hush up a scandal.
  5. to calm, quiet, or allay: to hush someone's fears. n.
  6. silence or quiet, esp. after noise; stillness.

[1350–1400; appar. back formation from husht whist2 (Middle English huissht), the -t being taken for past participle suffix]

Random House Kernerman Webster's College Dictionary, © 2010 K Dictionaries Ltd. Copyright 2005, 1997, 1991 by Random House, Inc. All rights reserved.

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In British English, schtum is an informal adjective used to mean remaining silent, e.g.:

It's for the best if nobody hears about any of this business, so if you're asked, make sure to keep schtum.

Although I've personally never heard it used as such, according to Oxford Dictionaries.com schtum can also be used as a verb:

Be or become quiet and non-communicative

The definition page provides a few examples, but I think the following is the most apt to the case provided in the question:

The possible risk being that she schtums and won't tell me the truth or just laughs in my face when I bring it up because it's apparently trivial.

This usage in the active voice sounds pretty jarring to my ear, though. Although I'd probably still think it an unusual word-choice, another example taken from Oxford Dictionaries.com utilising the passive voice sounds far more idiomatic:

This source was schtummed when Julia posted a scathing rebuke on the thread, really very angry.

The word schtum on its own can also be used in the imperative/as an interjection:


Used as an imperative, schtum is not directly equivalent to the example of shut-up given in the question (in the sense of an interjectory command for "Silence!"). Its meaning is more akin to "keeping quiet" about something in the sense of not releasing information.

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    How would you pronounce schtum? – Andra May 27 '14 at 12:10
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    Very interesting. I've never heard this word before. – Preston May 27 '14 at 12:14
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    This is unknown in AmE. That is to say that if you used it in the US no one would know what you're talking about. – Mitch May 27 '14 at 12:26
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    @Mitch, now that you know about it are you going to keep schtum or spill the beans ? – Frank May 27 '14 at 12:34
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    It's a German (or possibly Yiddish) loanword: stumm, adjective, pronounced /ʃtʊm/. – StoneyB on hiatus May 27 '14 at 12:34

"tacet" verb

To silence, or remain quiet

[from Latin: it is silent, from tacēre to be quiet]

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    @kjhughes Ah, apologies. But this is a good example of why it's good to link to references. – choster May 28 '14 at 0:23
  • Could do with a link, not sure tacet is a word, it's closest is tacit, which means something entirely different. – DarrylGodden May 28 '14 at 10:55
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    @Darryl kjhughes supplied a link above. Though that indicates it is exclusively a musical direction. – Martin Smith May 28 '14 at 11:22
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    This answer looks like a quote from somewhere. Is it a quote? Where is it from? Always cite your sources. Mods are instructed to delete on sight any material that's not properly attributed. – RegDwigнt May 29 '14 at 13:04
  • I've seen this used in the context of sheet music - if a particular instrument doesn't play anything during a movement of a larger piece, it may just read "tacet" instead of writing out the movement as nothing but rests. – Nuclear Wang Apr 27 at 16:10

Consider keep mum and mum's the word.

keep mum: do not talk; especially keep silent about something that may be sensitive or secret

mum's the word: (Idiom) keep quiet; say nothing

Also, quiesce might fit.

quiesce: to become quiet or quieter; fall silent: The audience quiesced as the speaker entered

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  • Mum's the word.... is the moment, of the silence (sung to the tune of Grease). – Blessed Geek May 28 '14 at 2:02

One of the older senses of "demur" is to hesitate or refuse to speak about something because one disagrees with it, but I'm not sure that's the word you're looking for.

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  • Is "Dim it!" related and used? – Cees Timmerman May 30 '14 at 8:08
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    I don't think it's related, and I can't say I've ever heard it used. – Dave Land May 30 '14 at 20:19

Another command meaning "silence yourself" is dummy up.

Dummy up defined at Dictionary.com: Informal. to keep silent; refuse to answer: If anybody asks you, just dummy up.

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  • "Clam up" also suggests itself. – Dave Land May 30 '14 at 20:20

Mute can be used as a verb. In ordinary English it normally means to deaden a sound rather than to completely silence it ("the response from the Japanese was muted"), but since almost every remote control on the planet has a mute button which silences all sound, one could use it to mean "to silence".

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  • But that's different from "to remain silent". – armb May 29 '14 at 9:35

To silence is a verb:

To make silent or bring to silence.

In thinking about the French (se taire?), there is a pronoun associated with the verb; tais-toi is silence yourself.

It's not a single word, but it is a verb, much like the French.

There is also quietentr. & intr.v. Chiefly British

To make or become quiet.

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    But the question is about remaining silent not becoming silent. – Martin Smith May 27 '14 at 12:17
  • +1 this is what I thought of myself. It also meets the criteria of being an imperative to "shut up", i.e. silence! – Michael Durrant May 27 '14 at 13:50

I'd say "mum", as "He was mum about the incident."

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I don't know why no one has really mentioned this yet:

The word is indeed quiet.

When telling someone to stop making noise and remain silent, many times people will simply say "Quiet." In a fuller sentence, people sometimes say "I quieted the dog."

Likewise, people use quiet to refer to themselves or another who did not make noise for a time. They might say "I quieted." It is grammatically correct, but feels clunky; I personally wouldn't say it like that, but as "I quieted down" More naturally in speech, people usually say "I was quiet." In this sense, however, quiet is actually an adjective, but I would bet that this dutch word, zwijgen, would be translated as such, depending on the context, because it is more familiar.

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  • Zwijgen is not “more appropriately labeled an adjective because it is describing a noun”. It is a verb, pure and simple. It conjugates as a verb, and it doesn’t describe any noun. To be silent is an action in languages like Dutch, unlike in English. Quiet in English is not an answer to the question because it is not a verb that means ‘to be silent’. It is either an adjective, or a verb that means ‘to make silent’. – Janus Bahs Jacquet May 28 '14 at 22:43
  • @Janus I don't speak Dutch. I was going off what the OP wrote: "Dutch has the verb zwijgen which means remaining silent. Ik zwijg means I remain silent or I say nothing." Whether the word conjugates or not, the OP presented what looks like an adjective to me. Quiet is used as a verb and an adjective. I merely pointed out that this dutch word seems to do the same. I made an edit to address this. – user39425 May 28 '14 at 23:06

There are many different ways, depending on whether it's someone being told or ordered to be silent (Hush, Shut up, Silence, Be quiet, Quiet down, Put a sock in it, Shhh, etc.) or whether they're voluntarily being silent, and at that, willingly or out of fear (I'll be quiet, My lips are sealed, etc.). Someone or an animal may be quieted or silenced. An inanimate device may be muted or the volume turned down.

In the US, you may hear the expression "I take the Fifth". This is in reference to the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution, which gives you the right to not incriminate yourself (be silent about some accusation). Of course, anyone who actually says that is immediately presumed guilty (by most people) of whatever they're accused of, by simply taking the Fifth.

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  • Per meta.english.stackexchange.com/a/364 for the use–mention distinction, please use an italic face not a bold one. It makes the page look too heavy otherwise, and furthermore runs counter to typographic convention both on this cite and in scholarly works. – tchrist May 30 '14 at 10:42

I'll bite my tongue

I'll keep that under my hat

I'll keep that to myself

all could mean to remain silent depending on the circumstance

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To speak is an act one could desist from. Cease-and-desist letters are often used to silence people for copyright and slander reasons.

Zwijgen. Ik zwijg. Zwijg!

Desisting. I desist. Desist!

"Stop" works better, but also better than "zwijgen".

Actions speak louder than words.

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  • 'Stop' and 'desist' work for any activity, not just speech, and the OP is just looking for something about speech. – Mitch May 27 '14 at 16:19
  • Refusal is the only thing i could think of; silencing and quieting require an object. – Cees Timmerman May 27 '14 at 16:23

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