threat·​en | \ ˈthre-tᵊn How to pronounce threaten (audio) \
threatened; threatening\ ˈthret-​niŋ How to pronounce threatening (audio) , 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 How to pronounce threatener (audio) , 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

Only about 90 personnel are assigned to the fire, compared with 394 on the Swan Lake fire on the Kenai Peninsula and 776 on the nearby Shovel Creek fire, which threatens subdivisions near Fairbanks. Michelle Theriault Boots, Anchorage Daily News, "Hess Creek fire, burning in Alaska’s Interior, is largest wildfire in the nation," 10 July 2019 The victim was taken to a hospital for treatment of gunshot wounds to his left bicep and upper right hip, which were not believed to be life- threatening, the officer said. San Diego Union-Tribune, "Man shot in his arm, hip while walking in East Village," 9 July 2019 It’s created immense headwind to address what is unmistakably a growing global crisis, which if left unaddressed threatens civilization altogether. Tara Golshan, Vox, "Why there’s a movement to declare climate change a national emergency," 9 July 2019 Norton also sustained a head injury in the accident, which involved a female passenger who also sustained non-life threatening injuries and another female driver, who did not suffer any injuries. Keven Lerner,, "Dolphins’ Kendrick Norton breaks silence following car crash, seeks financial help through GoFundMe," 9 July 2019 Top American and China negotiators are set to speak this week in an effort to revive stalled trade talks, as discord over prior commitments and political considerations threaten to bog down discussions. Chao Deng, WSJ, "U.S., China Tentatively Move to Revive Trade Talks," 8 July 2019 Iran has set a deadline for Sunday for Europe to offer new terms to the accord, and is threatening to accelerate uranium enrichment. Fox News, "French president looks for way to salvage Iran agreement," 7 July 2019 Prayuth Chan-ocha, the general who has served as Thailand’s prime minister since leading a coup in 2014, appeared to threaten another putsch, this time against his own government. The Economist, "Politics this week," 6 July 2019 The agency is also funding the Double Asteroid Redirection Test mission (DART), which will pilot the technologies needed to do something about any threatening near-Earth objects. Tim Fernholz, Quartz, "NASA won’t launch a mission to hunt deadly asteroids," 5 July 2019

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

12 Jul 2019

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 How to pronounce threaten (audio) \
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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More from Merriam-Webster on threaten

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with threaten

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for threaten

Spanish Central: Translation of threaten

Nglish: Translation of threaten for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of threaten for Arabic Speakers

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).


to complain fretfully

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