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 Gillespie’s anonymous protection of the school’s cyberdefenses was a harbinger of his future. Renee Dudley, ProPublica, "The Ransomware Superhero of Normal, Illinois," 28 Oct. 2019 This example of digital data manipulation is a harbinger of a new frontier in cyber attacks: a breach of trust in the integrity of the data that powers the increasingly digitized world. Fortune, "To Protect Against Cyber Attacks, Companies Need to Address Data Manipulation. Here’s How," 23 Sep. 2019 But that did not quite erase the memory that a similar spike in the repo rate in 2007 was a harbinger of the financial crisis to come. The Economist, "The week in charts: oil and other turmoil," 20 Sep. 2019 In what would be a harbinger of a garish second quarter, CU’s ensuing drive was stopped after five plays at the Air Force 19. Sean Keeler, The Denver Post, "CU Buffs bit by Nebraska hangover, fall to Air Force in OT, 30-23," 14 Sep. 2019 The document’s timing, in hindsight, was a harbinger of the abrupt end of Mr. Epstein’s life of privilege. Ali Watkins, New York Times, "Jeffrey Epstein’s Will: He Signed 2 Days Before Killing Himself," 19 Aug. 2019 That Chinese mission, which put the Yutu-2 rover on the far side of the moon, is a harbinger of what’s to come. Time, "'We Need That Boot Print.' Inside the Fight to Save the Moon's Historic Sites Before it's Too Late," 18 July 2019 Some of this is just rhetorical, but the conflict between the United States and China is a harbinger of things to come. Ashley Smith, Harper's magazine, "Left of Europe," 16 Sep. 2019 Still, the experiment may be a harbinger of things to come, Paternostro says. Adrian Cho, Science | AAAS, "Twist on ‘survival of the fittest’ could explain how reality emerges from the quantum haze," 12 Sep. 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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Last Updated

19 Nov 2019

Time Traveler for harbinger

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

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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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Comments on harbinger

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to speed up the process or progress of

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