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 The Eagles hang on when the skies open and threaten to close the roads. Larry Griffin, Car and Driver, "Tested: 1992 Lexus SC400 Rewrites the Sport Coupe Formula," 26 June 2020 Foreign hackers are taking advantage of the coronavirus pandemic to undermine institutions and threaten critical infrastructure, a top U.S. military cyber official said Thursday. Washington Post, "US Cybercom virtual war game girds against increased threats," 25 June 2020 Mandatory face masks for airline flights are already being challenged on planes, putting carriers in the precarious position to threaten and follow through with harsh penalties announced earlier this week. Dallas News, "Stricter face mask rules are already causing drama for American Airlines," 18 June 2020 Mr Trump has been more interested in blaming China for the pandemic than rallying an international response, his most prominent move being to suspend funding to the World Health Organisation (WHO) and threaten to leave it. The Economist, "The new world disorder Global leadership is missing in action," 18 June 2020 Upon arrival, deputies took McCray's gun while talking to the five individuals, who continued to threaten and yell racial epithets at him. Fox News, "Virginia sheriff apologizes to black pastor arrested after pulling gun in self-defense," 16 June 2020 The nation’s meatpackers along with federal and state officials have for years planned for pandemic flu outbreaks that could wipe out herds and flocks and threaten America’s food supply. Michael Grabell, ProPublica, "Emails Reveal Chaos as Meatpacking Companies Fought Health Agencies Over COVID-19 Outbreaks in Their Plants," 12 June 2020 Uncertain futures, on the other hand, stoke our fears, threaten our current, potential wellness. C. Brandon Ogbunu, Wired, "The Pandemic and the Protests Are Mirror Images," 10 June 2020 What becomes routinely lost in this garbled translation is the goals of a demonstration—to disturb and unsettle, to provoke a crisis, to threaten power and compel it to show the violence that sustains it. John Patrick Leary, The New Republic, "Freeing Protest From the Language Police," 10 June 2020

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

1 Jul 2020

Cite this Entry

“Threaten.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 4 Jul. 2020.

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More Definitions for threaten


How to pronounce threaten (audio)

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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