har·bin·ger | \ˈhär-bən-jər \

Definition of harbinger 

(Entry 1 of 2)

1 archaic : a person sent ahead to provide lodgings

2a : 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

b : something that foreshadows a future event : something that gives an anticipatory sign of what is to come robins, crocuses, and other harbingers of spring


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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Synonyms for harbinger

Synonyms: Noun

angel, foregoer, forerunner, herald, outrider, precursor

Synonyms: Verb

forerun, foreshadow, herald, prefigure

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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


her father's successful job interview was seen as a harbinger of better times to come


the hope that the housing slump does not harbinger a general economic recession

Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

The loss to Atlanta that kicked them down now seems like a harbinger of specific misery to come—a solid performance by Max Scherzer, marred by sloppy defense that led to three unearned runs. Emma Baccellieri, SI.com, "What Is Wrong With the Washington Nationals?," 6 July 2018 The biggest harbinger of morally-ambiguous-at-best difficulties to come pops up when Sugar (Sean Ringgold), a former Stokes crime family enforcer, enters the room to inform his new boss of some less-than-savory details. refinery29.com, "What That Disappointing Luke Cage Ending Means For The Future," 27 June 2018 This is the kind of play where moments of calm and niceness can be harrowing harbingers of horrors to come. Christopher Arnott, courant.com, ""Invisible Hand" Has Fresh Urgency At TheaterWorks," 1 June 2018 The anti-Chinese law was not a political hiccup for the United States, but a harbinger of things to come. Brenda Medina And Glenn Garvin, miamiherald, "Trump dialed it up to 10, but his predecessors often treated migrants with disdain," 2 July 2018 This race, no more than any other House primary, cannot be construed as a harbinger of what might happen nationally in November. Frank Rich, Daily Intelligencer, "Rot on the Right, Green Shoots on the Left," 28 June 2018 The bird is viewed as a symbol or harbinger of fertility, faithfulness, longevity, and general good fortune. L. Kim Tan, BostonGlobe.com, "In Latvia, we got carried away with storks," 26 June 2018 And the minimum monthly rent of a Mica apartment—$1,495—was as much a harbinger of the radical change Flash has noticed as the towers themselves, which dwarf the modest residential buildings in their immediate vicinity. Leor Galil, Chicago Reader, "Arts / Hip-Hop / Visual Art Is Logan Square's graffiti permission wall in danger?," 14 June 2018 To be sure, these changes don’t wipe away the controversy around Miss America, nor does getting rid of the swimsuit competition signify some sort of cultural harbinger of female empowerment. Emily Stewart, Vox, "Miss America is getting rid of the swimsuit competition. It’s a start.," 5 June 2018

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 1


1646, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for harbinger


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


see harbinger entry 1

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Statistics for harbinger

Last Updated

8 Oct 2018

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Time Traveler for harbinger

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

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English Language Learners Definition of harbinger

: something that shows what is coming

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Comments on harbinger

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a generally accepted meaning of a word

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