threat·​en | \ˈthre-tᵊn \
threatened; threatening\ ˈthret-​niŋ , ˈthre-​tᵊn-​iŋ \

Definition of threaten 

transitive verb

1 : to utter threats against

2a : to give signs or warning of : portend the clouds threatened rain

b : to hang over dangerously : menace famine threatens the city

3 : to announce as intended or possible the workers threatened a strike

4 : to cause to feel insecure or anxious felt threatened by his brother's success

intransitive verb

1 : to utter threats

2 : to portend evil

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Other Words from threaten

threatener \ ˈthret-​nər , ˈthre-​tᵊn-​ər \ noun

Examples of threaten in a Sentence

The mugger threatened him with a gun. She threatened to quit if they didn't give her a raise, but no one believed her. Civil war has been threatening the country for years. a marriage threatened by financial problems Overfishing threatens the survival of certain fish species. The latest news threatens trouble for the economy.
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Recent Examples on the Web

And for people with severe food allergies, coming into contact with the allergen may cause a life-threatening reaction known as anaphylaxis. Zoe Weiner, SELF, "American Airlines Will Let Passengers With Nut Allergies Board First," 9 Nov. 2018 Business cycles don’t die of old age but with time do tend to develop life-threatening conditions such as inflation or financial imbalances. Greg Ip, WSJ, "How Long Can the Great Jobs Picture Continue? The Fed Thinks Indefinitely," 2 Nov. 2018 But besides the life-threatening dangers and ongoing investigations, the biggest cliffhanger surrounds one of the show’s favorite characters: Where in the world is Hetty!? Megan Stein, Country Living, "'NCIS: Los Angeles' Ignites Panic Over Hetty's Mysterious Disappearance," 28 Oct. 2018 In September, the World Health Organization brokered the establishment of a humanitarian air bridge to allow the sickest Yemenis — cancer patients and others with life-threatening conditions — to fly to Egypt. Declan Walsh, The Seattle Times, "The tragedy of Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen," 26 Oct. 2018 This may cause life-threatening flash flooding in some areas. Janice Dean, Fox News, "Hurricane Michael intensifying; set to strike Florida as a Cat 3 storm," 9 Oct. 2018 In the wake of the airing of his exit from Paradise, Leo has taken his volatile behavior to social media, suggesting violence in response to his critics, and allegedly sending a threatening DM to a former Bachelor contestant. De Elizabeth, Allure, "Bachelor in Paradise," 29 Aug. 2018 Following a difficult pregnancy and life-threatening birthing complications, the athlete's quick return to the sport is nothing short of amazing. Lauren Alexis Fisher, Harper's BAZAAR, "Serena Williams Won Her US Open Match in an Off-White x Nike Tutu," 28 Aug. 2018 The Colorado State Patrol said on Twitter that none of the injuries are known to be life threatening. Phil Helsel /, NBC News, "Multiple injuries after school bus crashes in Colorado," 13 July 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'threaten.' 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 threaten

13th century, in the meaning defined at transitive sense 1

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Statistics for threaten

Last Updated

15 Nov 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for threaten

The first known use of threaten was in the 13th century

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More Definitions for threaten



English Language Learners Definition of threaten

: to say that you will harm someone or do something unpleasant or unwanted especially in order to make someone do what you want

: to be something that is likely to cause harm to (someone or something) : to be a threat to (someone or something)


threat·​en | \ˈthre-tᵊn \
threatened; threatening

Kids Definition of threaten

1 : to show an intention to do harm or something unwanted He threatened to quit.

2 : to give warning of by an indication The clouds threatened rain.

Other Words from threaten

threateningly adverb

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Comments on threaten

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


by force of circumstances

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