1. To provide reinforcement, support, or encouragement


  1. A long, firm cushion placed underneath softer ones for support

  2. A wooden cap or beam used to secure building structures in place


One of the defining components of the human experience is cooperation. While many animals work in groups to survive their environments, it is the uniquely human capacity to collaborate that has allowed us to thrive to the extent that we have, building shimmering cities, masterful works of art, and countless other marvels. It is little surprise, then, that we get such great satisfaction and sense of purpose when we bolster one another in our efforts to accomplish great deeds!

Bolster as a verb means to strengthen or render some kind of aid or encouragement to something. For one to bolster something, one has only to augment some facet of a thing to produce a more integral whole. Oftentimes, though, when one bolsters a person, it involves lending some kind of emotional support or emboldening their spirits, while bolstering a thing is usually to shore up its structural integrity and keep it physically sturdy. For example, when you bolster a friend who is going through a break up, you are probably imparting words of encouragement or picking up their favorite flavor of ice cream for them, whereas when you bolster a treehouse, it is more likely that you are nailing on a reinforcing timber or support beam.

Bolster can constitute a wide range of reinforcing actions or effects. For example, you could bolster an argument by supplementing it with more facts or bolster someone’s reputation by calling attention to their meritorious accomplishments or noble traits, or even bolster your confidence by wearing your favorite tie.

Bolster is also a noun used in different contexts to refer to some kind of reinforcement. First, a bolster can be a long, firm pillow that is placed under other pillows to keep them in place, usually to hold up or cushion some part of the body that needs to be elevated. One could, for example, insert a bolster underneath one's head to help their sinuses drain from a severe cold. A bolster can also describe a support beam or an end cap holding the skeletal framework of a building together. As architecture and construction styles evolve, though, what constitutes a bolster in this context can extend to anything that strengthens a part of the structure in addition to their base fastenings (i.e. as a supplement to the bare structure, applied over or around its joints or fastening points). In both of these cases, the bolster is helping to hold something up, and thereby bolsters the integrity of the whole.

Example: After a bad day at work, her boyfriend cooked her favorite meal to bolster her spirits.

Example: To help relieve some of the pain, the doctor placed a bolster beneath his broken leg.

Example: As the team renovated the historical building, they made sure to secure the central timbers as they repaired the old wooden bolster.


The word bolster derives from the Proto-Germanic noun bolkhstraz. This form then branched into the Swedish bolster (meaning "mattress"), the Dutch bolster ("husk, shell"), the Icelandic bolstur ("cushion"), the German polster ("cushion, pad"), and the Old English bolster, meaning "pillow." This noun form led to the English verb form, first in a literal sense in the mid-1400s to mean "propped up, made to bulge," and then in its figurative one early the following century.

Derivative Words

Bolsters: This conjugation of the root word indicates when he, she, or it is rendering aid.

Example: As the museum's most munificent donor, she bolsters the cultural institution more than anyone else in the city.

Bolstered: The past tense of bolster illustrates when the act of support occurred at some earlier point.

Example: His words of reassurance bolstered his nervous colleague before their big presentation.

Bolstering: The active present form denotes that some kind of assistance or strengthening is currently taking place.

Example: As soon as the steel structure was in place, the construction crew began bolstering it with rivets to hold it firmly together.

Bolsterer: (Plural: Bolsterers) This noun describes the person or thing responsible for lending support to another person or thing.

Example: As an ardent bolsterer of her home team, she watched every single one of their games.

In Literature

From Veronica Roth's Divergent:

"We've all started to put down the virtues of the other factions in the process of bolstering our own. I don't want to do that. I want to be brave, and selfless, and smart, and kind, and honest." He clears his throat. "I continually struggle with kindness."

In this passage, the speaker vows to stop strengthening, or bolstering, his views by disparaging those of other groups, instead approaching those groups with open-mindedness and compassion.


  • Your cell phone holster will bolster your phone from falling and hitting the ground.

  • A heavy bolt is used to bolster the structure of a building.



Bring out the linguist in you! What is your own interpretation of bolster. Did you use bolster in a game? Provide an example sentence or a literary quote.