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

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. See More
Recent Examples on the Web The soldiers would regularly enter the shelter and threaten to send the children there to Russia, angering the residents. Vivian Salama, WSJ, 20 May 2022 Detours introduce a wide variety of commercial and commuter vehicles into our area that cause unnecessary damage to our towns and threaten public safety. Baltimore Sun, 18 May 2022 The world economy is heading into a potentially grim period as rising costs, shortages of food and other commodities and Russia’s continuing invasion of Ukraine threaten to slow economic growth and bring about a painful global slump. New York Times, 18 May 2022 Chula Vista’s ordinance also identifies eight more kinds of harassment than the state, including that landlords cannot verbally abuse or threaten a tenant, influence vacancy through fraud or coercion and refuse their rent payment. San Diego Union-Tribune, 16 May 2022 These records can stay active for five years and can threaten a consumers’ ability to open a new account at a different bank. Megan Leonhardt, Fortune, 16 May 2022 When things don't go your way, don’t pout or threaten to quit. Jack Kelly, Forbes, 14 May 2022 New incentives that Salt Lake City leaders hope will encourage construction of more affordable housing took an extended thrashing Wednesday from low-income advocates and scores of residents who say the moves threaten their neighborhoods. The Salt Lake Tribune, 13 May 2022 Meanwhile, Disney’s theme parks business faces new challenges as lockdowns in China and overall market instability threaten the lucrative division, even as U.S. attendance appears poised to rebound, with strong results last quarter. Alex Weprin, The Hollywood Reporter, 11 May 2022 See More

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.

First Known Use of threaten

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

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

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Last Updated

27 May 2022

Cite this Entry

“Threaten.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 28 May. 2022.

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More Definitions for threaten


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

More from Merriam-Webster on threaten

Nglish: Translation of threaten for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of threaten for Arabic Speakers


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