ar·​son | \ ˈär-sᵊn How to pronounce arson (audio) \

Definition of arson

: the willful or malicious burning of property (such as a building) especially with criminal or fraudulent intent Arson was determined to be the cause of the fire.

Other Words from arson

arsonist \ ˈär-​sᵊn-​ist How to pronounce arson (audio) \ noun
arsonous \ ˈär-​sᵊn-​əs How to pronounce arson (audio) \ adjective

Examples of arson in a Sentence

The cause of the fire has not yet been determined, but investigators suspect arson. The town has suffered a rash of arson attacks. The town has suffered a rash of arsons.
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Recent Examples on the Web In August, Navy investigators searched the sailor’s home and property as part of an arson investigation, 10 News reported at the time. Andrew Dyer, San Diego Union-Tribune, 12 July 2021 Evacuation orders in Topanga were lifted this week as firefighters gained the upper hand on the fire in Pacific Palisades, and one man was arrested after an arson investigation — and after a public safety app labeled the wrong man a suspect. Laura Blasey, Los Angeles Times, 22 May 2021 An arson investigation team is working to determine the cause of the fire. Henri Hollis, ajc, 13 Apr. 2021 An arson investigation will determine if the blaze was deliberately set, Louisville Fire Department Chief Bobby Cooper told local FOX station WDRB-TV. Dom Calicchio, Fox News, 14 Mar. 2021 There have been multiple fires — three were believed to be arson and another on June 12th burned down the main office and clubhouse. The Indianapolis Star, 21 Nov. 2021 Robbery, arson and aggravated assault crimes have also increased. Clare Hymes, CBS News, 29 Oct. 2021 Though the protest was centered outside the courthouse, arson and looting spread to the Uptown area as well. Bruce Vielmetti, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 29 Oct. 2021 Investigators do not believe the cause of the fire or explosion was arson. NBC News, 25 Oct. 2021

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'arson.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of arson

circa 1680, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for arson

borrowed from Anglo-French arsun, arson, arsoun "fire, willful setting of a destructive fire, burn on the skin, branding," going back to Gallo-Romance *ārsiōn-, ārsiō, from Latin ārdēre (perfect and supine stem ārs-) "to catch fire, burn, blaze" + -tiōn-, -tiō, suffix of verbal action — more at ardent

Note: Outside of Anglo-French, arsun, arson (with a by-form arsion) is sparsely attested in Old and Middle French. Französisches etymologisches Wörterbuch notes that medieval attestations and later survivals are markedly regional (west and southwest France, including Normandy and Francophone Brittany). — The normal suffix of verbal action in later classical Latin and Late Latin was -tiōn-, -tiō, added to the verbal base (competing with the u-stem suffix -tus more common in earlier Latin), with the exception of a small number of formations with -iōn-, -iō (see condition entry 1, legion entry 1, region). Because the phonetic stem changes conditioned by the verbal adjective/past participle suffix -tus (Indo-European *-tos) are identical to those conditioned by -tiōn-, -tiō, new formations with this suffix in post-classical Latin and proto-Romance copy the morphophonemic alterations of the verbal adjective. This is evident in *ārsiō, formed from ārdēre. Note that the perfect ārsī and presumed (?) supine ārsum are most likely themselves analogical forms based on second-conjugation verbs such as mansī, mansum (from manēre "to wait, remain"), given that ārdēre (from āridus, ārdus "dry") cannot be of great antiquity in Latin.

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The first known use of arson was circa 1680

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Last Updated

5 Dec 2021

Cite this Entry

“Arson.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 6 Dec. 2021.

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More Definitions for arson



English Language Learners Definition of arson

: the illegal burning of a building or other property : the crime of setting fire to something


ar·​son | \ ˈär-sᵊn How to pronounce arson (audio) \

Kids Definition of arson

: the illegal burning of a building or other property


ar·​son | \ ˈärs-ᵊn How to pronounce arson (audio) \

Legal Definition of arson

: the act or crime of willfully, wrongfully, and unjustifiably setting property on fire often for the purpose of committing fraud (as on an insurance company)

Other Words from arson

arsonist \ -​ist How to pronounce arson (audio) \ noun

History and Etymology for arson

Anglo-French arsoun, alteration of Old French arsin, literally, conflagration, from ars, past participle of ardre to burn


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