cur·​few | \ ˈkər-(ˌ)fyü How to pronounce curfew (audio) \
plural curfews

Definition of curfew

1 : the sounding of a bell at evening
2a : a regulation enjoining the withdrawal of usually specified persons (such as juveniles or military personnel) from the streets or the closing of business establishments or places of assembly at a stated hour The city ordered a curfew to prevent further rioting.
b : a requirement that someone (typically a child) be home by a particular time Instead, [parents] should make a point of enforcing curfews and standards of behavior that reflect their family's values …— Pam Carroll
c : a signal to announce the beginning of a curfew
d : the hour at which a curfew becomes effective Austerity has come to Rome, with a midnight curfew, car-less Sundays …Women's Wear Daily She began to cry because it was past curfew and she was certain her momma would kill her when she got home.— Susan Soo-Hyun Chung
e : the period during which a curfew is in effect

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What is the origin of curfew?

During the Middle Ages, houses in European towns were often made of wood and were close together, and fires could quickly spread from house to house. To prevent this, people were required to put out or cover their hearth fires by a certain time in the evening. A bell was rung as a signal when the time had come. In early French this signal was called coverfeu, a compound of covrir, meaning “to cover,” and feu, “fire.” Even when hearth fires were no longer regulated, many towns had other rules that called for the ringing of an evening bell, and this signal was still called coverfeu. A common coverfeu regulation required people to be off the streets by a given time. That was the meaning of the word when it was borrowed into Middle English as curfew.

Examples of curfew in a Sentence

The teens were stopped by police for violating the curfew. The city ordered a curfew soon after the rioting started. The town was placed under curfew. No one is allowed on the streets during the curfew. He has a 10 o'clock curfew.
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Recent Examples on the Web Findley said the curfew was an insult to supporters of Taylor and appeared to be an attempt at silencing critics. NBC News, "Breonna Taylor's supporters disappointed only 1 of the officers involved was charged," 23 Sep. 2020 There are still more than 1,500 National Guard personnel in the city, and a curfew is in place. Bill Glauber, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Donald Trump blames 'anti-American riots' for unrest in Kenosha, doesn't focus on Blake or Rittenhouse shootings," 1 Sep. 2020 CBS Austin reports a curfew will be in effect there starting on Wednesday at 8 p.m. CBS News, "Hurricane Laura becomes "extremely dangerous" Category 4 storm," 26 Aug. 2020 Under the terms of the lockdown, a curfew will be in place from 6 p.m. each evening until 6 a.m. the following day., "Cases surge in Lebanon in aftermath of explosion," 21 Aug. 2020 The new curfew is on the agenda for the City Council meeting scheduled for Tuesday, The State newspaper reports. USA TODAY, "Black rodeo, Seth Meyers, game plans: News from around our 50 states," 17 Aug. 2020 The curfew will be in place from 10:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. until further notice, and local transit service in the city has been suspended through Wednesday. Madeline Holcombe, CNN, "Derecho moves southeast after storms leave more than 1 million without power overnight," 11 Aug. 2020 The curfew was in place because of protests — some marred by violence — over the police shooting of Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old Black woman who died in her South End apartment. Sarah Ladd, The Courier-Journal, "State investigation into shooting of David 'YaYa' McAtee 'substantially complete'," 3 Aug. 2020 The curfew, from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. each night, had been in place since March 27. Paul Gattis |, al, "Montgomery lifts coronavirus curfew after mandating masks," 20 June 2020

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'curfew.' 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 curfew

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for curfew

Middle English, from Anglo-French coverfeu, signal given to bank the hearth fire, curfew, from coverir to cover + fu, feu fire, from Latin focus hearth

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Time Traveler for curfew

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The first known use of curfew was in the 14th century

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Last Updated

29 Sep 2020

Cite this Entry

“Curfew.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 1 Oct. 2020.

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More Definitions for curfew


How to pronounce curfew (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of curfew

: an order or law that requires people to be indoors after a certain time at night
: the period of time when such an order or law is in effect
chiefly US : the time set by a parent at which a child has to be back home after going out


cur·​few | \ ˈkər-ˌfyü How to pronounce curfew (audio) \

Kids Definition of curfew

: a rule requiring certain or all people to be off the streets or at home at a stated time

More from Merriam-Webster on curfew

Nglish: Translation of curfew for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of curfew for Arabic Speakers

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