cur·​few | \ˈkər-(ˌ)fyü \

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 signal to announce the beginning of a curfew

c : the hour at which a curfew becomes effective He has a 10 o'clock curfew.

d : 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

Some homeless people who live outdoors cling to their freedom, rejecting shelters’ curfews and sobriety rules. Leslie Brody, WSJ, "In the Heat, New York City Tries to Move the Homeless Off the Streets," 7 Aug. 2018 Four juveniles were detained for curfew and their parents will be issued citations, Officer Holly Lowe said via text message. Hasan Dudar, Detroit Free Press, "Boom! Firework display awes huge crowd in Detroit, Belle Isle, Windsor," 25 June 2018 Curfew Three minor males were cited for possession of alcohol, violation of curfew and prowling at 1:21 a.m. June 15 in the 600 block of North Van Auken Street after police responded for a possible burglary of a vehicle. Graydon Megan,, "Police: A watermelon dropped from a parking deck in Elmhurst almost hit a pedestrian," 22 June 2018 On average, Wildwood takes in $100,000 each June from tickets written for underage drinking, excessive noise, breaking curfew, and any other local ordinance violations, according to business administrator Chris Fox. Avalon R. Zoppo,, "Senior Week in Wildwood: A money-making machine that residents love to hate," 20 June 2018 The mandatory evacuation zone lies within a slightly larger area that was already under a voluntary evacuation order and curfew, Reuters reported. Amy Lieu, Fox News, "Hawaii volcano prompts new warning -- heed evacuation order or face arrest," 1 June 2018 In spite of the curfew and heavy presence of the military, the armed separatists were able to chase out some public officials and close some schools. Washington Post, "Cameroon holiday hit by violence in English-speaking areas," 20 May 2018 Bell agreed to get a job, submit to drug tests, stay away from bars and nightclubs, abide by a curfew and participate in a mental health evaluation and anti-violence counseling. Eliott C. Mclaughlin, CNN, "Police, widow blast New York decision to parole 3-time cop killer," 30 Apr. 2018 Though many activists engaged in peaceful protests, looting and rioting gripped the Maryland city of 620,000 for much of Monday and Tuesday, prompting officials to declare a weeklong curfew and call in the National Guard. Max Kutner, Newsweek, "A Brief History of the Word ‘Thug’," 29 Apr. 2015

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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Statistics for curfew

Last Updated

17 Nov 2018

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Time Traveler for curfew

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

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More Definitions for curfew



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

: the time set by a parent at which a child has to be back home after going out


cur·​few | \ˈkər-ˌfyü \

Kids Definition of curfew

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

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