beware

[ bih-wair ]
/ bɪˈwɛər /

verb (used with object)

to be wary, cautious, or careful of (usually used imperatively): Beware such inconsistency. Beware his waspish wit.

verb (used without object)

to be cautious or careful: Beware of the dog.

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Origin of beware

1150–1200; Middle English, from phrase of warning be ware.See be, ware2
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2020

VOCAB BUILDER

What does beware mean?

Beware means be careful or cautious—watch out for danger or other bad stuff.

Beware is a command (or at least a suggestion). Sometimes, it’s used by itself, as in Beware! There are dark forces afoot! 

More commonly, it’s immediately followed by the specific thing you should beware of, as in Beware the words of politicians. 

Perhaps most commonly, it’s paired with the word of, such as on a sign that says Beware of cat. (You thought we were going to say Beware of dog, didn’t you? Stay alert, folks. Beware a wily dictionary.)

Example: Before you enter the internet, there should be a sign that says “Beware of trolls.”

Where does beware come from?

The first records of the word beware come from the 1100s. It comes from the warning phrase be ware, meaning “be wary.” Wary means “watchful” or “on guard against danger.” Wary, the ware in beware, and the word aware are all based on the same root, and all involve alertness or watchfulness. The word be is used in the same way in the similarly formed word begone.

Beware doesn’t sound as archaic as begone, but it does sound a little old-fashioned and dramatic (especially when used without of). It can be used as simple advice, as in Beware of ice on your drive home, but a lot of people would probably just say watch out for instead of beware of.

Since beware is typically used as an imperative (a command), when it’s used in more general advice, it can sometimes sound like a proverb. It’s used this way in the famous expression beware of Greeks bearing gifts (meaning “don’t trust enemies who bring you gifts”—a reference to the story of Trojan horse).

The Latin phrase caveat emptor literally translates as “let the buyer beware,” meaning that unless a product has a warranty, it’s basically up to the buyer to make sure the product is OK before buying it.

The most common modern use of beware is probably on signs that say things like Beware of dog. Such a message is intended as a warning that’s also supposed to clear the property owner of any responsibility for what happens if you don’t beware the dog.

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What are some synonyms for beware?

What are some words that share a root or word element with beware

 

What are some words that often get used in discussing beware?

 

How is beware used in real life?

Outside of its use on signs warning about dangerous dogs, beware is usually used to sound a little old-fashioned or dramatic.

 

 

Try using beware!

Which of the following things should you NOT do when told to beware?

A. be on guard
B. relax
C. watch out
D. take heed

Example sentences from the Web for beware

British Dictionary definitions for beware

beware
/ (bɪˈwɛə) /

verb

(usually used in the imperative or infinitive, often foll by of) to be cautious or wary (of); be on one's guard (against)

Word Origin for beware

C13 be war, from be (imperative) + war wary
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012