Raman spectroscopic studies are performed to probe the stress along the length of a bent ZnO nanowire. The zone-centre E2high optical phonon shows a systematic red shift as the junction point of the two arms of the nanowire is approached. The mechanism of the red shift is discussed on the basis of the tensile strain. From the red shift of the phonon peak position, the strain at different regions on the nanowire is estimated. Stress in the bent nanowire is also investigated using photoluminescence (PL) spectroscopy. Results of both Raman and PL study confirm that the bent nanowire is under tensile strain. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.