[ thret-n ]
/ ˈθrɛt n /
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See synonyms for: threaten / threatened / threatening / threatens on Thesaurus.com

verb (used with object)
to utter a threat against; menace: He threatened the boy with a beating.
to be a menace or source of danger to: Sickness threatened her peace of mind.
to offer (a punishment, injury, etc.) by way of a threat: They threatened swift retaliation.
to give an ominous indication of: The clouds threaten rain.
verb (used without object)
to utter or use threats.
to indicate impending evil or mischief.
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Origin of threaten

before 1000; Middle English thretnen,Old English thrēatnian, derivative of thrēat pressure, oppression. See threat, -en1


threat·en·er, nounoutthreaten, verb (used with object)pre·threat·en, verb (used with object)re·threat·en, verb
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2021


What does threaten mean?

To threaten someone is to indicate that you will cause harm to or create some other kind of negative consequences for them, especially to pressure them to do something or not to do something.

This kind of statement is called a threat. Threatening someone often involves a promise to physically harm them in retaliation for what they have done or might do. A bank robber might threaten a bank teller by telling them he’ll shoot them if they don’t hand over the money. Some threats are simply meant to intimidate, and don’t involve pressuring someone to do something. A bully might threaten to punch you for no good reason.

Not all threats involve violence. You can threaten someone with a lawsuit.

The word threat can also refer to someone or something that may potentially cause harm or damage, and threaten can mean to be a source of potential harm or damage. A disease threatens your health. A security threat is someone or something that threatens to make a situation unsafe.

Threat can also mean a warning or sign that harm or trouble is coming, and threaten can mean 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. 

The adjective threatened means in danger, as in I felt threatened or We need to protect threatened species. 

Example: The rowdy students immediately started to behave after the teacher threatened to call their parents.

Where does threaten come from?

The first records of the word threaten come from before 1000. It ultimately comes from the Old English thréat, meaning “pressure” or “punishment.” The suffix -en is used to form verbs (as in strengthen).

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

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What are some other forms related to threaten?

  • threatening (continuous tense verb, adjective)
  • threatened (past tense verb, adjective)
  • threat (verb)

What are some synonyms for threaten?

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

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

How is threaten used in real life?

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


Try using threaten!

Is threaten used correctly in the following sentence?

After I accidentally knocked over their snowman, the kids threatened to throw snowballs at me.

How to use threaten in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for threaten

/ (ˈθrɛtən) /

(tr) to be a threat to
to be a menacing indication of (something); portenddark clouds threatened rain
(when tr, may take a clause as object) to express a threat to (a person or people)

Derived forms of threaten

threatener, nounthreatening, adjectivethreateningly, adverb
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