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

Definition of portend

transitive verb

1 : to give an omen or anticipatory sign of

Keep scrolling for more

Did You Know?

Portend has been used in English in the context of signs of things to come since the 15th century. The word derives from the Latin verb portendere, which means "to predict or foretell." That verb, in turn, developed as a combination of the prefix por- (meaning "forward") and the verb "tendere" (meaning "to stretch"). So you can think of "portend" as having a literal meaning of "stretching forward to predict." Additional descendants of "tendere" include "extend," "tendon," and "tension," among others.

Examples of portend in a Sentence

The distant thunder portended a storm. If you're superstitious, a black cat portends trouble.

Recent Examples on the Web

More Politics — Analysts worry that the fires raging in Saudi Arabia’s Abqaiq oil processing plant could portend a larger, regionwide conflagration between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Los Angeles Times, "Newsletter: How the FBI’s Kavanaugh investigation was limited," 16 Sep. 2019 But a sluggish offensive performance in a 24–0 opening win over Liberty portended a 63–20 blowout loss to Maryland in Week 2, re-setting expectations for this season. Scooby Axson, SI.com, "Can Syracuse Re-Capture Past Magic vs. Clemson Amid Disappointing Start to 2019?," 12 Sep. 2019 Because Glasgow Prestwick Airport is relatively close to the Turnberry Resort, fiscal issues at the local airport would portend similar doom for the Trump hotel, which relies on potential customers who fly in and out of Prestwick. John Hirschauer, National Review, "Rachel Maddow’s Turnberry Tale," 12 Sep. 2019 The president enjoys wide popularity within his own party, but a GOP defeat in a red-leaning state could portend trouble for his reelection campaign. Washington Post, "At rally, Trump paints bleak picture of Democratic control," 9 Sep. 2019 Now the precarious medical condition of Ginsburg, who's been treated this year for pancreatic and lung cancers, could portend an even more titanic battle for the seat of the court's leading liberal. Richard Wolf, USA TODAY, "Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch decries lack of access to justice for many Americans," 8 Sep. 2019 May’s Little Women illustrations didn’t exactly portend a successful career. Erin Blakemore, Smithsonian, "The New ‘Little Women’ May Finally Do Justice to Its Most Controversial Character," 14 Aug. 2019 The decline could portend other disappointing reactions to earnings, which could mean greater volatility for stocks in the weeks ahead. Michael Wursthorn, WSJ, "Life-Science Stocks Look Less Healthy," 12 July 2019 Cochrane notes that in most periods, a flat or inverted yield curve portends a recession. Shawn Tully, Fortune, "The Bond Market Has a Message for the Fed: You’re Not in Charge Anymore," 6 Aug. 2019

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.

See More

First Known Use of portend

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for portend

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

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about portend

Listen to Our Podcast about portend

Statistics for portend

Last Updated

4 Oct 2019

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for portend

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

See more words from the same century

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for portend



English Language Learners Definition of portend

formal + literary : to be a sign or warning that something usually bad or unpleasant is going to happen


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

Kids Definition of portend

: to give a sign or warning of beforehand Distant thunder portended a storm.

Keep scrolling for more

More from Merriam-Webster on portend

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with portend

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for portend

Spanish Central: Translation of portend

Nglish: Translation of portend for Spanish Speakers

Comments on portend

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


suitable to be imparted to the public

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Where in the World? A Quiz

  • peter bruegel tower of babel painting
  • What language does pajama come from?
Name That Thing

Test your visual vocabulary with our 10-question challenge!


Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

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