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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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 two have also won the 2017 Japan Prize (which earned them $420,000 each), the 2015 Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences (a hefty $3 million prize), and other awards that are considered harbingers of a possible Nobel. Amy Dockser Marcus, WSJ, "Science Prizes Add Intrigue to the Race for the Nobel," 1 June 2018 Due to Botswana’s profusion of game, the EU required the nation to separate cattle from wildlife, specifically buffalo, known harbingers of foot and mouth disease. National Geographic, "How Botswana Revived Africa's Largest Mammal Migration," 4 May 2018 What happens in Lowell, then, may prove a harbinger for the country as a whole. Evan Horowitz, BostonGlobe.com, "As Massachusetts goes, so might the US economy," 13 Apr. 2018 The case proved a harbinger of legal actions to come, including a battle against Nold’s client, Bellevue Square. Lewis Kamb, The Seattle Times, "Before Stormy Daniels, her attorney faced allegations of dubious business dealings," 7 Apr. 2018 Last month, a federal judge delivered a blow to the city by ordering a halt to the daily-accruing fines — a harbinger of how the case will go. Lauren Ritchie, OrlandoSentinel.com, "Mount Dora should take hint from the universe and settle 'Starry Night' lawsuit," 2 Mar. 2018 Then in May 2008, Michigan felt a harbinger of the Great Recession when gas crossed $3.50 a gallon. Randy Essex, Detroit Free Press, "Essex: Is the auto industry setting itself up for another big truck bust?," 27 Jan. 2018 However, jubilation was ceased to a halt when Sergio Ramos earned himself a red card in extra time, which perhaps proved a harbinger for Madrid's subsequent La Liga downfall. SI.com, "Real Madrid vs Deportivo de La Coruña Preview: Classic Encounter, Key Battles, Team News & More," 20 Jan. 2018 For a region unaccustomed to a storm like #HurricaneFlorence, its impact will arrive as a harbinger of a warmer — and more dangerous — future. Alissa Walker, Curbed, "Hurricane Florence will dump up to 50 percent more rainfall due to climate change," 13 Sep. 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

3 Dec 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

What made you want to look up harbinger? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


to move with a clumsy heavy tread

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