noun har·bin·ger \ ˈhär-bən-jər \
|Updated on: 30 Jul 2018

Definition of harbinger

1 archaic : a person sent ahead to provide lodgings
2 a : 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

harbinger was our Word of the Day on 11/28/2017. Hear the podcast!

Examples of harbinger in a Sentence

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

Recent Examples of harbinger from the Web

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.

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.

Origin and Etymology of harbinger

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

Synonym Discussion of 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




Definition of harbinger

harbingered; harbingering; harbingers
: to give a warning or prediction of : to be a harbinger (see 1harbinger) of
  • harbingered the fall of Rome

Examples of harbinger in a Sentence

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

Origin and Etymology of harbinger

HARBINGER Defined for English Language Learners


Definition of harbinger for English Language Learners

  • : something that shows what is coming

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having an air of easy unconcern

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