har·​bin·​ger | \ ˈhär-bən-jər How to pronounce harbinger (audio) \

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 lazy convenience of the furry Gucci mule was both a harbinger of things to come and a revival of the mule’s original meaning. Nancy Macdonell, WSJ, "Mules: How a Historic Shoe Blossomed Anew," 3 May 2018 If Americans don’t rediscover this truth, the Syrian genocide will be the harbinger of a long, inhumane and maybe unimaginable century to come. Martin Peretz, WSJ, "Let’s Get the U.N. Out of the U.S.," 28 Sep. 2018 Slowly the building transformed, and when The Table, a bakery-coffee shop-café, finally opened its doors in May 2013, a line stretched down the sidewalk—a harbinger of what was to come. Melody Warnick, Woman's Day, "These Small-Town Heroes Are Helping Their Communities Thrive," 2 Apr. 2019 Beyond any national harbinger, a Lamb win could mark for southwestern Pennsylvania a return to its roots. Time, "Republicans Tried Desperately to Save the Pennsylvania Special Election. They Still May Lose.," 13 Mar. 2018 Looking back now, the announcement of the Mach 1 at this year’s Detroit Auto Show was a harbinger of things to come. Sean O'kane, The Verge, "Ford’s big electric push will start with this Mustang-style crossover," 9 Sep. 2018 Nicholas is a fashion legend and harbinger of style in Canada. Mosha Lundström Halbert, Vogue, "The Cool Girl’s Guide to Toronto," 27 Dec. 2018 From surprises like Childish Gambino and Drake to harbingers of ingeniously effective album rollouts from Ariana Grande and Janelle Monáe, the first half of the year has offered an embarrassment of musical riches. Raisa Bruner, Time, "Best Songs of 2018 So Far," 1 June 2018 Undoubtedly, the pop-up was a harbinger of the Uco Valley’s growing culinary momentum. Todd Plummer, Condé Nast Traveler, "Itinerary: Wine Tasting in Argentina's Uco Valley," 11 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

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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Statistics for harbinger

Last Updated

21 May 2019

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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 exaggerated bouncy motions

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