threat·​en | \ ˈthre-tᵊn How to pronounce threaten (audio) \
threatened; threatening\ ˈthret-​niŋ How to pronounce threaten (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 threaten (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 Further delays threaten to extend the downturn in southern European economies that are especially dependent on tourism, among them Greece, Italy, Spain and Portugal. New York Times, "Europe’s Recession Contrasts Economic Fortunes of U.S. Expansion," 30 Apr. 2021 Those actions threaten to force the music giant to unload streaming apps Kuwo and Kugou, shed more exclusive artist and label deals and pay a hefty fine. Alexei Barrionuevo, Billboard, "Tencent Music Targeted for China Competition Regulator Crackdown: Report," 29 Apr. 2021 The early pledges from some party lawmakers, led by prominent members of its liberal wing, threaten to create even more political tension around a package that is already facing no shortage of it., "Democrats seek to push Medicare expansion as part of Biden’s $1.8 trillion families plan, defying White House," 29 Apr. 2021 Biden has said that the United States will continue to monitor terrorist threats and will hold the Taliban accountable to its commitment to not let terrorists threaten this nation or its allies. Sara Tabin, The Salt Lake Tribune, "Utah Sen. Mitt Romney calls Biden’s Afghanistan withdrawal an ‘error’," 21 Apr. 2021 Biden's announcement comes as his administration races to get every American vaccinated and as highly contagious variants threaten to derail progress the US has made in combating the pandemic. Kate Sullivan, CNN, "Biden expected to tout reaching 200 million shots since taking office," 21 Apr. 2021 Competitors say Starlink satellites have low maneuverability, meaning that other firms’ craft have to act when collisions threaten. Bojan Pancevski, WSJ, "Elon Musk’s Satellite Internet Project Is Too Risky, Rivals Say," 19 Apr. 2021 Underground after being accused of murdering a Chinese ambassador, a security expert comes out of hiding when terrorists threaten the United Nations. Ed Stockly, Los Angeles Times, "Movies on TV this week ‘Pulp Fiction’ on BBC America and IFC," 9 Apr. 2021 When our own world feels half-submerged, when the monotony, crippling uncertainty, and isolation threaten to bring us down, there’s a need for conversations around serious things. Diana Hubbell, Wired, "Sea of Solitude Captures the Loneliness and Anxiety of the Pandemic," 22 Mar. 2021

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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Time Traveler for threaten

Time Traveler

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

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Statistics for threaten

Last Updated

3 May 2021

Cite this Entry

“Threaten.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 7 May. 2021.

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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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Comments on threaten

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