wit·​ness | \ ˈwit-nəs How to pronounce witness (audio) \

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

Noun 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. Verb 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 man was transported to a local hospital after a witness pulled him out, but officials from various emergency response agencies were still searching for the woman as of about 5 p.m., according to social media posts. J.d. Morris, SFChronicle.com, "Man rescued, woman missing after being swept into ocean at San Mateo County beach," 10 Jan. 2021 An affidavit from a key witness -- a relative of the twins -- gives a different account of what happened on Little California Road in Marksville, Louisiana, in 1977, his attorneys said. Christina Carrega, CNN, "This prisoner says he's been waiting 43 years for a fair trial in a racist Louisiana parish. A hearing may be his final chance," 5 Jan. 2021 But at least one witness backed Garza’s version of events. Kevin Rector, Los Angeles Times, "‘Justified’ or ‘despicable’? The twisted tale of an LAPD excessive force case," 3 Jan. 2021 And now, Michael getting drunk with a gas station clerk in a scheme to scrub the surveillance footage and get information on a possible witness has led to impending disaster. Scott Tobias, Vulture, "Your Honor Recap: Unknown Caller," 3 Jan. 2021 Another prosecutor acknowledged downloading a valid court subpoena, opening it in Microsoft Word, and changing the language to instruct a witness to appear at the DA's Office instead of court. Matt Sledge, NOLA.com, "Two more settlements reached in fake subpoena lawsuit as DA Leon Cannizzaro's term draws to close," 2 Jan. 2021 For those who bore witness, this has been a time for taking stock and taking a breath amid all that has changed. Michael Wilson, New York Times, "This Is How New Yorkers Will Remember a Year They Can’t Wait to Forget," 31 Dec. 2020 Peter Azcaiturrieta said a call came in at 3:25 p.m. from a witness who observed a motionless body in an open dirt field just south of the Magnolia Avenue near a Motel Six and a China Buffet close to the off-ramp. City News Service, San Diego Union-Tribune, "Man found dead in dirt field in El Cajon, no foul play suspected," 30 Dec. 2020 Jerome Woodfork, 69, also was fatally shot and a witness later described seeing Woodfork falling from a second-floor balcony. orlandosentinel.com, "Lawyer: Soldier from Florida charged in deadly bowling alley shooting may have PTSD," 29 Dec. 2020 Recent Examples on the Web: Verb Precinct 2 Commissioner Justin Rodriguez was in attendance Friday to witness the ceremonies. Liz Hardaway, ExpressNews.com, "‘The first of many more to follow’ — Bexar County Commissioners Court makes history as it adds diversity to court," 1 Jan. 2021 Boudin’s office stressed that the officers did not witness Spiers committing a crime, and Spiers was never arrested in the incident. Megan Cassidy, SFChronicle.com, "SFPD releases body cam footage of incident a day after DA charges cop with assault," 15 Dec. 2020 Often for being suspected of crimes the officers did not witness. John Archibald | Jarchibald@al.com, al, "Decades before Black Lives Matter, Bonita Carter changed Alabama forever," 16 Nov. 2020 Garcetti spokesman Alex Comisar said last week the mayor didn’t witness any harassment. Dakota Smith, Los Angeles Times, "Garcetti says new information led him to cut ties with aide accused of sexual harassment," 28 Oct. 2020 Police did not witness the incident and arrested Pondexter on someone else's complaint. Sarah Valenzuela, Star Tribune, "Former WNBA star Cappie Pondexter found after she was feared missing," 8 Oct. 2020 The life cycle of a season of Real Housewives is a beautiful thing to witness, especially all at once. Mary Sollosi, EW.com, "The Week in ‘Wives: Karen schemes on RHOP, COVID enters RHOC, and a Met Gala on RHOSLC," 5 Dec. 2020 And that this has been almost revolutionary to witness. Justin Phillips, SFChronicle.com, "Roman Mars: COVID is transforming restaurant design and interactions — for better and for worse," 22 Nov. 2020 Sentenced to several weeks in Bridewell Prison, she was regularly paraded in front of visitors who paid for the chance to witness her public humiliation. Meilan Solly, Smithsonian Magazine, "The Woman Who Gave Birth to Rabbits, a History of Hell and Other New Books to Read," 3 Apr. 2020

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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Time Traveler for witness

Time Traveler

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

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Statistics for witness

Last Updated

15 Jan 2021

Cite this Entry

“Witness.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/witness. Accessed 16 Jan. 2021.

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More Definitions for witness


How to pronounce witness (audio)

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 How to pronounce witness (audio) \

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

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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