[ thret ]
/ θrɛt /
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See synonyms for: threat / threats on Thesaurus.com

a declaration of an intention or determination to inflict punishment, injury, etc., in retaliation for, or conditionally upon, some action or course: His family convinced him to take the anonymous threats seriously and call the police.
an indication or warning of probable trouble, or of being at risk for something terrible:The threat of a storm was in the air.He confessed under the threat of imprisonment.
a person or thing that threatens: Her attorney will try to convince the judge that she is not a threat to herself or others.
verb (used with or without object)
Archaic. to threaten: Do you dare to accuse and threat within my very home?
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Origin of threat

First recorded before 900; Middle English noun thret(e) “crowd, multitude, verbal menace,” Old English thrēat “crowd, pressure, oppression, punishment”; cognate with Old Norse thraut “hardship, great struggle”; verb from the noun; see also threaten


coun·ter·threat [koun-ter-thret], /ˈkaʊn tərˌθrɛt/, noun
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023


What does threat mean?

A threat is a statement indicating that you will cause harm to or create some other kind of negative consequences for someone, especially to pressure them to do something or not to do something.

Many threats involve a promise to physically harm someone in retaliation for what they have done or might do. A bank robber who says he’ll shoot the bank teller if they don’t hand over the money is making a threat. Telling a bully that you’ll punch them if they don’t stop bothering your little brother is a threat. A death threat involves telling someone that they will be killed. Some threats are simply meant to intimidate, and don’t involve pressuring someone to do something.

Not all threats involve violence. Telling your neighbor that you’re going to file a lawsuit if they don’t repair your fence that they broke is a threat.

The word threat can also refer to someone or something that may potentially cause harm or damage. A hurricane is a threat to people and buildings in its path. A disease is a threat to your health. A security threat is someone or something that might make a situation unsafe. A person who may be able to beat someone in a competition might be called a threat, such as in sports or politics.

Threat can also mean a warning or sign that harm or trouble is coming, as in The news was seen as a threat of problems in the very near future. 

The verb threaten means to make a threat, as in Don’t you dare threaten me! It can also mean to be a source of potential harm or damage, as in This recession threatens our livelihoods, or to indicate potential harm or trouble, as in It is threatening to storm out there. 

The adjective threatening is used to describe someone or something that causes alarm, intimidates, or is intended to intimidate, as in You look very threatening in that costume. 

Example: The rowdy students immediately started to behave in response to the teacher’s threat of calling their parents.

Where does threat come from?

The first records of the word threat come from before 900. It ultimately comes from the Old English thréat, meaning “pressure” or “punishment.”

Most threats are meant to pressure someone to do something (or not do something) by indicating what the punishment will be if they don’t comply. For example, telling your brother that you will tell your parents that he was out past curfew unless he gives you something is a threat (it’s also blackmail). It doesn’t matter if you intend to tell your parents or not—the statement is still a threat.

In all of its uses, a threat involves the possibility of something bad happening, but the word does not refer to the actual negative consequences that are being threatened.

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What are some other forms related to threat?

What are some synonyms for threat?

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

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

How is threat used in real life?

Threat is always used in negative contexts, especially ones that involve some kind of harm or violence.



Try using threat!

Is threat used correctly in the following sentence?

After I accidentally knocked over their snowman, the kids started shouting angry threats at me.

How to use threat in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for threat

/ (θrɛt) /

a declaration of the intention to inflict harm, pain, or misery
an indication of imminent harm, danger, or pain
a person or thing that is regarded as dangerous or likely to inflict pain or misery
an archaic word for threaten

Word Origin for threat

Old English; related to Old Norse thraut, Middle Low German drōt
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

Other Idioms and Phrases with threat


see triple threat.

The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.