[ kur-fyoo ]
/ ˈkɜr fyu /
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Origin of curfew

1250–1300; Middle English <Anglo-French coverfeu,Old French covrefeu literally, (it) covers (the) fire. See cover, focus
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023


What does curfew mean?

A curfew is a specific time of day at which, by rule, you must be at home. It can also refer to the rule itself, or the period during which you must stay home.

The word is typically used in two main ways: the curfew set by parents for their children, and the kind of curfew ordered by the government to limit public assembly after a certain time of night, especially during times of war or civil unrest.

Parental curfews typically require the person under curfew to be home by a certain time at night.

Government curfews generally require the same thing, but often have other conditions. Usually, civilians aren’t allowed outside after the stated time and must stay in their homes until the curfew is over. Such curfews are typically enforced by police or the military, and those who violate the curfew can be subject to consequences like fines or jail time.

Government curfews are usually ordered to prevent large gatherings of people, such as those protesting, often with the stated intention of preventing violence or destruction of property. However, such curfews are sometimes criticized for violating the rights of citizens to peacefully assemble.


  • If I’m not home by curfew, my parents are going to ground me for a month.
  • After another night of protests, the mayor has ordered a citywide curfew starting at 6 p.m.

Where does curfew come from?

The first records of the word curfew come from the 1200s. It comes from the Old French covrefeu, which literally translates to “(it) covers (the) fire.” In medieval Europe, curfew referred to the ringing of a bell at a certain hour to signal people to extinguish their lamps or torches, presumably to prevent fires from starting overnight. The word curfew has been used to refer to the cover over the fire, the signal to cover it, the time at which this was done, and the rule itself.

Today, curfew is most commonly used to refer to the set time that one has to be home (as in We have to be in by curfew), the rule that sets the time (as in There is a curfew in effect), or the period during which one is required to be home (as in We’re not allowed out during curfew).

When set by government officials, a curfew operates much like a temporary law. If someone violates this rule, they are often said to be breaking curfew. The same phrase is used when a teenager stays out later than their parents have said to. Parents typically set curfews for safety reasons so their kids don’t get into trouble by staying out late at night.

Did you know ... ?

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

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

How is curfew used in real life?

Curfews are usually unpopular with the people who are told to obey them.



Try using curfew!

True or False? 

A curfew is usually optional.

How to use curfew in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for curfew

/ (ˈkɜːfjuː) /

an official regulation setting restrictions on movement, esp after a specific time at night
the time set as a deadline by such a regulation
(in medieval Europe)
  1. the ringing of a bell to prompt people to extinguish fires and lights
  2. the time at which the curfew bell was rung
  3. the bell itself

Word Origin for curfew

C13: from Old French cuevrefeu, literally: cover the fire
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