(1) For example (from https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/poise):

I poised the crowbar in my hand, and waited.


The rock was poised precariously on the edge of the cliff.

(2) Or another ones:

he poised motionless on his toes


The true gentleman is subtly poised between an inner tact and an outer defense.

What is the difference in meanings in (2)? Is the last one correct?

  • 1
    Because the verb "poise" is also transitive, which simply means it can be followed by an object, you can form both passive sentences and active sentences. If the agent is more important you use the passive voice if the subject is more important you use active voice.
    – Cardinal
    May 6, 2017 at 6:00
  • Although poised the crowbar in my hand is an oddity. Transitive poise does not mean "to hold or grasp in a particular manner" but rather "to position or arrange something so that it remains motionless in that position or arrangement, because it has been so positioned or arranged, not because it is being held in place by something else". Trying to balance a crowbar on your hand, you might say that you poised it on your palm. But the word in suggests a grasp. Poising and grasping are different things entirely.
    – TimR
    May 6, 2017 at 13:06
  • @Tᴚoɯɐuo I took the example from en.wiktionary.org/wiki/poise
    – asianirish
    May 8, 2017 at 9:27
  • @asianirish: I do realize that the example came from Wiktionary.
    – TimR
    May 8, 2017 at 11:42

1 Answer 1


To poise something means to position it or to arrange it in such a way that it will remain where it was positioned or remain as it was arranged; there is often the sense that it could easily be knocked from that position or out of that arrangement--the stasis is fragile or precarious.

The 'something' which is poised can be one's own person, one's body, or one's mind, attitude, or mental state, if the word is being used figuratively.

The slapstick comic poised himself on the ladder, holding a flower-pot in his extended arms, waiting for his fellow stooge to walk through the door.

The workers poised the A/C unit precariously on the window sill.

He poised the teaspoon on the tip of his nose.

He poised the broomstick on the tip of his finger and tried to walk across the room.

She poised the mannequin's arm in a languid gesture.

In your second example, the verb is being used figuratively to refer not to an actual physical place or physical arrangement, but a mental attitude or state.

He stood poised between steely self-control and utter abandon.

There, even though we find the verb stood and the preposition between, we are not talking about physically standing on two feet with something on either side, but about a state of mind, and two equally powerful attitudes or motives tugging the person's mind in different "directions", so that it is held "motionless", in equipoise.

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