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  1. tending or intended to menace: threatening gestures.
  2. causing alarm, as by being imminent; ominous; sinister: threatening clouds.
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Origin of threatening

First recorded in 1520–30; threaten + -ing2
Related formsthreat·en·ing·ly, adverbnon·threat·en·ing, adjectivenon·threat·en·ing·ly, adverbun·threat·en·ing, adjectiveun·threat·en·ing·ly, adverb

Synonyms for threatening

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2. See imminent, ominous.


verb (used with object)
  1. to utter a threat against; menace: He threatened the boy with a beating.
  2. to be a menace or source of danger to: Sickness threatened her peace of mind.
  3. to offer (a punishment, injury, etc.) by way of a threat: They threatened swift retaliation.
  4. to give an ominous indication of: The clouds threaten rain.
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verb (used without object)
  1. to utter or use threats.
  2. 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
Related formsthreat·en·er, nounout·threat·en, verb (used with object)pre·threat·en, verb (used with object)re·threat·en, verb

Synonyms for threaten

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Antonyms for threaten

Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Related Words for threatening

dangerous, sinister, ugly, dire, alarming, aggressive, cautionary, lowering, looming, bullying, near, warning, black, close, impending, scowling, apocalyptic, baleful, baneful

Examples from the Web for threatening

Contemporary Examples of threatening

Historical Examples of threatening

  • The official's voice was charged with threatening as he went on.

    Within the Law

    Marvin Dana

  • But it settled down again, black and threatening, before spring came.

    In the Valley

    Harold Frederic

  • The political controversy, however fierce and threatening, is only for power.

    Slavery Ordained of God

    Rev. Fred A. Ross, D.D.

  • And so the report came to me that the workers were threatening strike.

  • It was some moments before, under the girl's threatening eyes, she could speak at all.

    The Coryston Family

    Mrs. Humphry Ward

British Dictionary definitions for threatening


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

Word Origin and History for threatening



Old English þreatnian (see threat). Related: Threatened. Threatening in the sense of "portending no good" is recorded from 1520s.

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Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper