har·​bin·​ger | \ ˈhär-bən-jər How to pronounce harbinger (audio) \

Definition of harbinger

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1a : something that foreshadows a future event : something that gives an anticipatory sign of what is to come robins, crocuses, and other harbingers of spring
b : one that initiates a major change : a person or thing that originates or helps open up a new activity, method, or technology : pioneer the great legal harbinger of the New Deal revolution— Time a harbinger of nanotechnology the harbingers of peace to a hitherto distracted … people— David Livingstone
2 archaic : a person sent ahead to provide lodgings


harbingered; harbingering; harbingers

Definition of harbinger (Entry 2 of 2)

transitive verb

: to give a warning or prediction of : to be a harbinger (see harbinger entry 1) of harbingered the fall of Rome

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Choose the Right Synonym for harbinger


forerunner, precursor, harbinger, herald mean one that goes before or announces the coming of another. forerunner is applicable to anything that serves as a sign or presage. the blockade was the forerunner of war precursor applies to a person or thing paving the way for the success or accomplishment of another. 18th century poets like Burns were precursors of the Romantics harbinger and herald both apply, chiefly figuratively, to one that proclaims or announces the coming or arrival of a notable event. their early victory was the harbinger of a winning season the herald of a new age in medicine

Did You Know?


When medieval travelers needed lodging for the night, they went looking for a harbinger. As long ago as the 12th century, "harbinger" was used to mean "one who provides lodging" or "a host," but that meaning is now obsolete. By the late 1300s, "harbinger" was also being used for a person sent ahead of a main party to seek lodgings, often for royalty or a campaigning army, but that old sense has largely been left in the past, too. Both of those historical senses are true to the Anglo-French parent of "harbinger," the word herberge, meaning "lodgings." The most common sense of the word nowadays, the "forerunner" sense, has been with us since the mid-1500s.

Examples of harbinger in a Sentence

Noun her father's successful job interview was seen as a harbinger of better times to come Verb the hope that the housing slump does not harbinger a general economic recession
Recent Examples on the Web: Noun Stink bugs, along with their other more unpleasant insect friends (like roaches), are one of the more unpleasant harbingers of spring. Natalie Schumann, Country Living, "How to Get Rid of Stink Bugs," 7 Feb. 2020 At the time, the closure of a once-successful restaurant was said to the harbinger of a forthcoming industry-wide collapse. Justin Phillips, SFChronicle.com, "Former San Francisco fine dining chef opens Mägo, a neighborhood bistro in Oakland," 10 June 2019 What started as an edgy, earthy record shop in 1974 transformed into the harbinger for the intersection of loud guitars and dance beats that defined a subgenre known as industrial. Ron Hart, Billboard, "From Prince to Soccer Mommy, 25 Releases to Snap Up on Record Store Day 2019," 12 Apr. 2019 One city’s beacon of hope can serve as another’s harbinger of doom, and for every franchise that leaps into a new era there is one that gets left behind. Mike Finger, ExpressNews.com, "Finger: Spurs weather Zion, delaying the future again," 22 Jan. 2020 The results of those plays will be a harbinger for the result of the game. Andy Benoit, SI.com, "How Will the Titans Combat Jalen Ramsey and the Jaguars’ Defense?," 19 Sep. 2019 Many Indians, on both sides of the political divide, see Assam and Kashmir as harbingers of the direction Modi will take this nation of 1.3 billion people in the coming years. Hari Kumar, BostonGlobe.com, "Making India more Hindu, one test at a time," 17 Aug. 2019 Teams have analyzed electromagnetic activity, weather patterns, and more only to scratch them off the list as potential harbingers of rocky destruction. Jenny Howard, National Geographic, "Groundbreaking earthquake catalog may have just solved a seismic mystery," 13 Aug. 2019 As in years prior, the grimly unlucky and the overly egotistical will perish; their bodies, frozen solid as monuments, left on the mountain as gruesome harbingers of next year’s mistakes. Mark Jenkins, Outside Online, "How to Fix Everest," 20 June 2019

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


14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 2


1646, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for harbinger

Noun and Verb

Middle English herbergere, from Anglo-French, host, from herberge camp, lodgings, of Germanic origin; akin to Old High German heriberga

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Time Traveler for harbinger

Time Traveler

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

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Last Updated

25 Mar 2020

Cite this Entry

“Harbinger.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/harbinger. Accessed 5 Apr. 2020.

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More Definitions for harbinger


How to pronounce harbinger (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of harbinger

: something that shows what is coming

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