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

The idea was to create the illusion that the monks eating in the dining hall were witnesses to this cataclysmic event. Robert E. Gordon, WSJ, "A Multi-Layered Drama," 13 July 2018 There were no known witnesses or surveillance cameras. Austen Erblat, Sun-Sentinel.com, "West Boca crime log: June 23-July 1," 13 July 2018 According to police, there were two witnesses — a 32-year-old male and a 22-year-old female. Hasan Dudar, Detroit Free Press, "DPD seeking drive-by shooting suspect and another suspect who shot at officers," 9 July 2018 Germantown police said there was no witnesses or video surveillance of the incident and there are no leads as to who took the woman's belongings. Adriana Ramirez, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Germantown woman is robbed while waiting for her ride, napping on the sidewalk," 6 July 2018 Mikowski gave chase, telling Norris to stop, a witness told MPD. Cynthia Sewell, idahostatesman, "Meridian officer, chasing fugitive alone, didn't know who he'd shot until it was over," 3 July 2018 To be a witness to such positive changes, seeing women communicate and be willing to help each other instead of knocking each other out of the way to get to the top is fantastic. Danielle Page, USA TODAY, "Empowering advice from today’s top women leaders at the 2018 KPMG Women's Leadership Summit," 2 July 2018 Deputies believe there were witnesses to the shooting that have not been interviewed by detectives. Cameron Knight, Cincinnati.com, "Fairfield man faces murder charge in fatal Crosby Township shooting," 2 July 2018 The car lost control, struck a wall, rebounded into another wall and erupted in flames, witnesses told the NTSB. Fortune, "Tesla That Caught Fire in Florida Crash Reached 116 MPH," 26 June 2018

Recent Examples on the Web: Verb

What Lesnar witnessed was Cormier, already the light heavyweight title holder, become a simultaneous two-division champion with a first-round knockout of Miocic. Simon Samano, USA TODAY, "Brock Lesnar returning to UFC, will fight new heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier," 8 July 2018 Arizona Republic Gabby Graves-Wake has witnessed more hardship in the first 24 years of her life than most people deal with in a lifetime. Atreya Verma, azcentral, "Arizona Marine veteran Gabby Graves-Wake finds victory in adaptive sports after accident," 4 July 2018 The worker wrote an email to the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency's administrator saying another staffer witnessed all three people on duty asleep. Audrey Mcavoy, Fox News, "Workers of Hawaii agency that sent false alert seen sleeping," 27 June 2018 For the first time, astronomers have witnessed the aftermath of a black hole destroying a star. David Grossman, Popular Mechanics, "Scientists Witness Aftermath of a Black Hole Destroying a Star," 15 June 2018 George Clooney, Oprah Winfrey, and Sir Elton John were just a few of the many celebs in attendance to witness the blessed event. Rebecca Detken, EW.com, "Celebs react to Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s royal wedding," 19 May 2018 Nevertheless, Edward has witnessed real love between his parents, but also the tragedy that can come hand-in-hand with that. refinery29.com, "On Chesil Beach Review: Can You Have Love Without Sex?," 16 May 2018 Anyone who witnessed anything or has information should call Wauwatosa Police Department at 414-471-8430. Karen Pilarski, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Woman and child injured during overnight home invasion in Wauwatosa," 13 July 2018 Also released were more accounts of students who witnessed the attacks and statements from people who knew Cruz, including his brother Zachary. Washington Post, "Witness: Florida massacre suspect made threats about school," 11 July 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


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

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Learn More about witness

Statistics for witness

Last Updated

10 Oct 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

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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).


evasion of direct action or statement

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