wit·​ness | \ˈwit-nəs \

Definition of witness 

(Entry 1 of 2)

1 : attestation of a fact or event : testimony

2 : one that gives evidence specifically : one who testifies in a cause or before a judicial tribunal

3 : one asked to be present at a transaction so as to be able to testify to its having taken place

4 : one who has personal knowledge of something

5a : something serving as evidence or proof : sign

b : public affirmation by word or example of usually religious faith or conviction the heroic witness to divine lifePilot

6 capitalized : a member of the Jehovah's Witnesses


witnessed; witnessing; witnesses

Definition of witness (Entry 2 of 2)

transitive verb

1 : to testify to : attest

2 : to act as legal witness of

3 : to furnish proof of : betoken

4a : to have personal or direct cognizance of : see for oneself witnessed the historic event

b : to take note of our grammar— witness our verb system—is a marvel of flexibility, variety, and exactitude— Charlton Laird

5 : to constitute the scene or time of structures … which this striking Dorset hilltop once witnessedThe Times Literary Supplement (London)

intransitive verb

1 : to bear witness : testify

2 : to bear witness to one's religious convictions opportunity to witness for Christ— Billy Graham

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Choose the Right Synonym for witness


certify, attest, witness, vouch mean to testify to the truth or genuineness of something. certify usually applies to a written statement, especially one carrying a signature or seal. certified that the candidate had met all requirements attest applies to oral or written testimony usually from experts or witnesses. attested to the authenticity of the document witness applies to the subscribing of one's own name to a document as evidence of its genuineness. witnessed the signing of the will vouch applies to one who testifies as a competent authority or a reliable person. willing to vouch for her integrity

Examples of witness in a Sentence


The defense called its first witness to the stand. a witness for the defense His aunt and uncle were witnesses at his baptism. There must be two witnesses present when she signs the document.


Several people witnessed the accident. We are witnessing a historic moment. He witnessed the signing of her will.
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Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

Neither Kavanaugh nor Ford were questioned; witnesses who came forward with tales to tell were rebuffed. Lynn Yaeger, Vogue, "The Week in Washington: “Look At Us!”," 7 Oct. 2018 The announcement came just as U.S. lawmakers were debating whether to write a national consumer privacy law, with witnesses testifying from companies such as Apple, Google and Twitter. Recode Staff, Recode, "Recode Daily: Brett Kavanaugh meets his accuser on the Senate stand today," 27 Sep. 2018 Check out his results and witness dogs and cats living together in the video above. Brad Chacos, PCWorld, "This clever trick gets AMD FreeSync running on an Nvidia GeForce graphics card," 27 Aug. 2018 Chang Ming Chuang, 66, was at the mouth of the lake near the Sopa Hotel taking photos of the animal when the hippo turned around suddenly, charged him, and bit him in his chest, a witness told Kenya's The Star newspaper. Erin Florio, Condé Nast Traveler, "Tourist Killed by Hippo Near Kenya's Lake Naivasha," 13 Aug. 2018 Depending on state law, those witnesses may have to be people not included in your will, or even people not related to you or responsible for your medical bills. Megan Friedman, Good Housekeeping, "What Is a Living Will? What You Need to Know About Advance Healthcare Directives," 2 Aug. 2018 Detectives continued their work, gathering video and seeking out and interviewing more witnesses. David Owens, courant.com, "Argument On Facebook Live Leads To Homicide," 12 July 2018 The hearing will continue Thursday with two more witnesses scheduled to testify. Josh Peter, USA TODAY, "Alleged rape victim identifies Kellen Winslow Jr.'s lawyer as assailant," 11 July 2018 Another witness told police that Rolle and a woman, believed to be Maas’ wife, came to her apartment sometime before Maas’ body was found. Samantha Ketterer, Houston Chronicle, "Fatal stabbing might have been over prank with stolen ID," 3 July 2018

Recent Examples on the Web: Verb

The Icelandair pilot has been flying over the Arctic for 34 years, and during her time in the air, she's witnessed the Northern Lights several times—recently, three times in four days, during routes near Iceland and Greenland. Bridget Hallinan, Condé Nast Traveler, "How to See the Northern Lights When You Fly, According to an Icelandair Pilot," 21 Nov. 2018 No single observer can be both inside and outside the event horizon, so no one can witness both events at the same time. Jennifer Ouellette, Ars Technica, "Stephen Hawking’s final paper published, tackles famous paradox," 11 Oct. 2018 This is similar to the training that Popular Mechanics witnessed during a B-2 flight from Missouri. Joe Pappalardo, Popular Mechanics, "China's "Guam Killer" Is Forcing B-2s To Practice Strikes From Pearl Harbor," 9 Oct. 2018 Year after year, the most fulfilling part of coaching students to their dream scores on the SAT and ACT has been witnessing the personal growth that comes alongside such hard work. Hafeez Lakhani, Seventeen, "Here's Exactly How To Slay the SAT and ACT," 22 July 2018 Whoever was there got to witness something special. Abby Gardner, Glamour, "It Sure Looks Like Channing Tatum and Jessie J Are Instagram Official," 14 Nov. 2018 Login early and be in-match to witness the one-time event which starts at 1pm ET/ 6pm UTC. Andrew Webster, The Verge, "Fortnite’s monster-filled Halloween mode ends Sunday with a one-time event," 31 Oct. 2018 Like so many Americans, actor Amandla Stenberg tuned in to witness the powerful testimony of Christine Blasey Ford, Ph.D., before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week. Carolyn L. Todd, SELF, "The Breathing Trick Amandla Stenberg Uses to Ground Herself When Triggered by Sexual Assault News," 9 Oct. 2018 Putting pressure on our leaders to take action and demanding a safer future is the best way to witness change. Olivia Fleming, Harper's BAZAAR, "Gabrielle Giffords and Edna Chavez Refuse to Be Silenced on Gun Control," 8 Oct. 2018

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


before the 12th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1


14th century, in the meaning defined at transitive sense 1

History and Etymology for witness


Middle English witnesse, from Old English witnes knowledge, testimony, witness, from wit entry 1

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Statistics for witness

Last Updated

5 Dec 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for witness

The first known use of witness was before the 12th century

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More Definitions for witness



English Language Learners Definition of witness

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: a person who sees something (such as a crime) happen

law : a person who makes a statement in a court about what he or she knows or has seen

: a person who is present at an event (such as a wedding) and can say that it happened



English Language Learners Definition of witness (Entry 2 of 2)

: to see (something) happen

law : to be present at (an event) in order to be able to say that it happened : to act as a legal witness of (something)

: to be the time or place when (something) happens


wit·​ness | \ˈwit-nəs \

Kids Definition of witness

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 : a person who sees or otherwise has personal knowledge of something witnesses of an accident

2 : a person who gives testimony in court

3 : a person who is present at an action (as the signing of a will) so as to be able to say who did it

4 : testimony He gave false witness in court.


witnessed; witnessing

Kids Definition of witness (Entry 2 of 2)

1 : to see or gain personal knowledge of something

2 : to act as a witness to I witnessed the signing of the will.

3 : to be or give proof of Their actions witness their guilt.



Legal Definition of witness 

(Entry 1 of 3)

1a : attestation of a fact or event in witness whereof the parties have executed this release

b : evidence (as of the authenticity of a conveyance by deed) furnished by signature, oath, or seal

2 : one who gives evidence regarding matters of fact under inquiry specifically : one who testifies or is legally qualified to testify in a case or to give evidence before a judicial tribunal or similar inquiry a witness before a congressional committee no person…shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself U.S. Constitution amend. V — compare affiant, deponent

adverse witness

: a witness who is called by or associated with an opposing party or who by statement, conduct, or other evidence (as of relationship) shows bias against or is injurious to the case of the party by whom the witness is called sought to have his witness declared an adverse witness subject to impeachment

called also hostile witness

— see also leading question at question sense 1

alibi witness

: a witness upon whom a criminal defendant relies in establishing an alibi

character witness

: a witness who testifies as to the character or reputation especially of a criminal defendant : a witness who gives character evidence

expert witness

: a witness (as a medical specialist) who by virtue of special knowledge, skill, training, or experience is qualified to provide testimony to aid the factfinder in matters that exceed the common knowledge of ordinary people

hostile witness

: adverse witness in this entry

lay witness

: a witness who is not an expert witness

material witness

: a witness whose testimony is necessary for trial and whose presence may sometimes be secured by the state by subpoena, custody, or recognizance

prosecuting witness

: a witness (as the victim of a crime) whose own allegations initiate the prosecution of the defendant

qualified witness

: a witness who has sufficient understanding of a record-keeping system to provide testimony that forms the proper foundation for admission of evidence under the business records exception to the hearsay rule

rebuttal witness

: a witness called upon to rebut evidence already presented

3 : one who is called on to be present at a transaction so as to be able to testify to its occurrence specifically : one who sees the execution of an instrument and signs it to confirm its authenticity a witness to a will

4 : eyewitness a witness to an assault

bear witness

: to furnish or constitute proof or evidence


transitive verb

Legal Definition of witness (Entry 2 of 3)

1 : to furnish evidence or proof of

2 : to act as witness of: as

a : to see the execution of (an instrument) and sign for the purpose of establishing authenticity witness a will

b : to be formally present as a witness of (as a transaction or the execution of a convict)

3a : to see or experience directly

b : to take note of

intransitive verb

: to bear witness : give evidence



Legal Definition of witness (Entry 3 of 3)

: being an object or location used to ascertain a precise boundary point especially on a corner of a tract when marking that point itself is impracticable or impossible a witness tree a witness corner

History and Etymology for witness


Old English witnes knowledge, testimony, witness, from wit mind, sense, knowledge

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Comments on witness

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


the figure or shape of a crescent moon

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