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 Catastrophic flooding in Michigan yesterday was a harbinger of climate change as Rust Belt cities are thrust into the crosshairs of intensifying disasters, experts say. Daniel Cusick, Scientific American, "Torrent Breaks Michigan Dam and Reveals Climate Risks," 21 May 2020 Looking to China Auto sales in China, where the virus peaked before the U.S., could be a harbinger of things to come. CBS News, "Auto workers to return to work, providing hope in jobs crisis," 15 May 2020 Auto sales in China, where the virus peaked before the U.S., could be a harbinger of things to come. Tom Krisher, The Christian Science Monitor, "U.S. auto industry reopens, sparking hope in job crisis," 15 May 2020 May 13, 202001:52 Twitter and Square's progressive approaches to remote work could be a harbinger of what's to come for other tech companies that don't necessarily need to have their teams working together in person. NBC News, "Following Twitter, Square to also let employees work from home going forward," 13 May 2020 Didi's woes could be a harbinger of what's to come for Uber in the United States and Europe, Ola in India and Grab in Southeast Asia. Sherisse Pham, CNN, "Masa Son's global tech empire is being rocked by the pandemic. Don't count him out just yet," 31 Mar. 2020 Here's hoping that's not a harbinger of things to come. Jennifer Leman, Popular Mechanics, "SpaceX Is Officially Sending Tourists to Space," 18 Feb. 2020 The office changes are a potential harbinger of things to come in London and New York, where many firms are waiting for infection rates to fall further before opening their office towers to non-essential staff. Cathy Chan, Bloomberg.com, "Citi, HSBC Opening Asia Offices Show Way for Rest of World," 15 May 2020 For instance, owls are considered unlucky omens and harbingers of death among many Native American tribes, the Crow included. John B. Snow, Outdoor Life, "The Godfather of Montana’s Bighorn River," 28 Apr. 2020

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

3 Jun 2020

Cite this Entry

“Harbinger.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/harbinger. Accessed 6 Jun. 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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