por·​tend pȯr-ˈtend How to pronounce portend (audio)
portended; portending; portends

transitive verb

: to give an omen or anticipatory sign of

Did you know?

It may seem like a stretch to say that portend, beloved verb of seers, soothsayers, and meteorologists alike, is related to tendon—the word we use to refer to the dense white fibrous tissue that helps us, well, stretch—but it’s likely true. Portend comes from the Latin verb portendere (“to predict or foretell”), which in turn developed as a combination of the prefix por- (“forward”) and the verb tendere (“to stretch”). Tendere is thought to have led to tendon, among other words. So you might imagine portend as having a literal meaning of “stretching forward to predict.” In any event, the history of the word surely showcases the flexibility of our language.

Example Sentences

The distant thunder portended a storm. If you're superstitious, a black cat portends trouble.
Recent Examples on the Web The disputes in Chongqing and Hangzhou could portend more unrest to come. Muyi Xiao, New York Times, 16 Jan. 2023 This could portend some type of significant initiative is due to follow (for example, with significant new economic reform). William Hurst, Time, 6 Dec. 2022 And the way Clemson arrived on the scene and stayed could portend exactly what the Bulldogs are preparing to do. cleveland, 9 Nov. 2022 Such a large and catastrophic fire in the heart of any other humming business district might portend a big change in direction. Tony Semerad, The Salt Lake Tribune, 6 Nov. 2022 But the infighting could portend broader divisions on a team that can ill afford distractions. Maggie Haberman, New York Times, 31 Oct. 2022 Putin's increasingly frequent descriptions of Ukraine's actions as terrorist could portend even more bold and draconian actions. Adam Schreck, BostonGlobe.com, 11 Oct. 2022 Putin’s increasingly frequent descriptions of Ukraine’s actions as terrorist could portend even more bold and draconian actions. Adam Schreck And Hanna Arhirova, Anchorage Daily News, 10 Oct. 2022 If that doesn't portend a more NWA-centric agenda, what could? Arkansas Online, 17 Nov. 2022 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'portend.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

Word History


Middle English, from Latin portendere, from por- forward (akin to per through) + tendere to stretch — more at for, thin

First Known Use

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of portend was in the 15th century


Dictionary Entries Near portend

Cite this Entry

“Portend.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/portend. Accessed 4 Feb. 2023.

Kids Definition


por·​tend pȯr-ˈtend How to pronounce portend (audio)
: to give a sign or warning of beforehand

More from Merriam-Webster on portend

Last Updated: - Updated Did you know?
Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!

Fashionable Words

  • dog-sunglasses-scarf
  • Which of these items is named for a deadly weapon?
True or False

Test your knowledge - and maybe learn something along the way.

Solve today's spelling word game by finding as many words as you can with using just 7 letters. Longer words score more points.

Can you make 12 words with 7 letters?