Please imagine a troop of soldiers which are hiding and waiting for their enemies to arrive to their hiding place so that they could suddenly attack the enemies!


Let's suppose an animal which is doing the same action and waiting for its prey to arrive to attack and hunt it.

Is there any single verb or an idiom / expression in English which can encapsulate these quite similar actions in English?

Unfortunately, despite my searches, I didn't succeed in finding any particular word to describe this action.

P.S. I have already seen the similar threads, but they disn't contain the information I need.

2 Answers 2


When the soldiers or animals jump out it's to ambush and an ambush.

So you have "waiting in ambush", "lying in ambush" as well as "waiting to ambush"

  • The cat lay in ambush on the windowsill, and attacked as soon as the prey was within reach.
  • The platoon waited in ambush behind the barn, but were soon exposed by barking dogs.
  • The salesman sat in the bar ready to ambush me as soon as I arrived.

"Ambush" is surprisingly specific: spiders with webs don't ambush, they entrap. The Trojan horse wasn't an ambush, it was an infiltration. Wikipedia

From BBC:

  • BBC news April 2019 "London murder: Man jailed for killing wife in ambush"
  • BBC children's TV programme Peter Rabbit: "When Mr Tod's efforts to creep up on the rabbits are thwarted by a noisy song thrush, he cages the bird so that he can ambush Peter and his friends without warning"
  • I know this word @jonathanjo, but are you sure it is prevalent these day? ;)
    – A-friend
    Apr 24, 2019 at 14:23
  • 1
    Certainly it's completely current, I expanded answer with a few recent BBC examples
    – jonathanjo
    Apr 24, 2019 at 14:51
  • Then what is the difference between the stand-alone ambush and lie in ambush? @jonathanjo
    – A-friend
    Apr 24, 2019 at 15:28
  • Meanwhile, isn't the word "ambush" encompass the meaning of "attack" by itself? Whilst the word/idiom I'm looking for shuld not include the meaning of "attack"; (the soldier / animal / insect is waiting hoddenly for the enemy/prey!) @jonathanjo
    – A-friend
    Apr 24, 2019 at 15:30
  • 1
    "To ambush" is to attack from a position of hiding. "Lie in ambush" is the hiding and waiting and intending to attack by surprise. "Lie in wait" (other good answer) includes waiting, probably for an attack, but not necessarily by surprise, and not necessarily hidden. (Ie "He composed his photograph and lay in wait for a car to complete the image") "The zebras stared at the lion, lying in wait for an opportunity"
    – jonathanjo
    Apr 24, 2019 at 15:50

If there is a verb for it then it's not in current usage. The idiom is "lying in wait".

The cat was lying in wait under the bird feeder.

See https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/lie%20in%20wait

  • 1
    I'd suggest that "lying in wait" doesn't necessarily imply an intended sudden attack (my answer would be "ambush"). "He lay in wait for his indigestion to subside.", "He lay in wait until someone fell into the trap."
    – jonathanjo
    Apr 24, 2019 at 13:36

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