[ hahr-bin-jer ]
/ ˈhɑr bɪn dʒər /
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See synonyms for: harbinger / harbingered / harbingering on Thesaurus.com

a person who goes ahead and makes known the approach of another; herald.
anything that foreshadows a future event; omen; sign: Frost is a harbinger of winter.
a person sent in advance of troops, a royal train, etc., to provide or secure lodgings and other accommodations.
verb (used with object)
to act as harbinger to; herald the coming of.
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Origin of harbinger

First recorded in 1125–75; late Middle English herbenger, nasalized variant of Middle English herbegere, dissimilated variant of Old French herberg(i)ere “host,” equivalent to herberg(ier) “to shelter” (from Germanic; see harbor) + -iere -er2
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023


What does harbinger mean?

Harbinger most commonly means an omen or a sign of something to come.

Harbinger can also mean a person sent ahead to make people aware that someone else is coming (such as a king) or to make preparations (such as for an army), but these meanings are much less common. Harbinger can also be used as a verb meaning to act as a sign or omen.

Example: These flowers are always the first to bloom, so people consider them harbingers of spring.

Where does harbinger come from?

Harbinger has been used in English since at least the 1100s. It comes from Middle English, from a variant of the Old French herberg(i)ere, which meant “host” and was equivalent to the verb herberg(ier), “to shelter.”

Harbinger was originally used in English to refer to a host or someone who provides lodgings. It came to be used to refer to the person who went in advance of an army to secure lodgings for the soldiers. Eventually, it became synonymous with herald—someone who goes ahead to announce that someone important is coming, like a king or queen. Another word for such a person is forerunner, which can now also be used to mean “omen” or “sign of something to come.” This is the most common meaning of harbinger. A harbinger can be a sign of something positive, as in Robins are a harbinger of springtime, or negative, as in These reports are a harbinger of doom. When applied to a person, harbinger often refers to someone who’s announcing something, especially something that has yet to happen. More rarely, it can be used as a verb, as in His text harbingered their arrival.   

It can be tempting to misspell harbinger as harbringer, since a harbinger usually brings something, such as a warning, but you can remember the correct spelling by keeping the pronunciation in mind: it’s HAR-bin-jer, with the G making a J sound.

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How is harbinger used in real life?

Harbinger can be used in many different contexts, but it typically refers to a sign that something is going to happen in the future.



Try using harbinger!

Is harbinger used correctly in the following sentence?

In retrospect, the cancellation of our first contract was a harbinger of failure.

How to use harbinger in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for harbinger

/ (ˈhɑːbɪndʒə) /

a person or thing that announces or indicates the approach of something; forerunner
obsolete a person sent in advance of a royal party or army to obtain lodgings for them
(tr) to announce the approach or arrival of

Word Origin for harbinger

C12: from Old French herbergere, from herberge lodging, from Old Saxon heriberga; compare Old High German heriberga army shelter; see harry, borough
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