From Middle English thretenen, from Old English þrēatnian (to urge, force, compel), equivalent to threat +‎ -en.


  • enPR: thrĕt′n̩, IPA(key): /ˈθɹɛt.n̩/
  • Audio (US):(file)
  • Rhymes: -ɛtn̩
  • Hyphenation: threat‧en



threaten (third-person singular simple present threatens, present participle threatening, simple past and past participle threatened)

  1. To make a threat against someone; to use threats.
    • 1904–1905, Baroness Orczy [i.e., Emma Orczy], “The Hocussing of Cigarette”, in The Case of Miss Elliott, London: T[homas] Fisher Unwin, published 1905, →OCLC; republished as popular edition, London: Greening & Co., 1909, OCLC 11192831, quoted in The Case of Miss Elliott (ebook no. 2000141h.html), Australia: Project Gutenberg of Australia, February 2020:
      No one, however, would have anything to do with him, as Mr. Keeson's orders in those respects were very strict ; he had often threatened any one of his employés with instant dismissal if he found him in company with one of these touts.
    • 2022 August 13, Sarah Wu, David Kirton, Ben Blanchard, quoting Tsai Ing-wen, “Taiwan thanks U.S. for maintaining security in Taiwan Strait”, in Tom Hogue, Michael Perry, William Mallard, editors, Reuters[1], archived from the original on 13 August 2022, World:
      "Taiwanese are very enthusiastic and love freedom and democracy, so many good international friends have come to Taiwan to support us. This is a normal and good thing, but China threatens and intimidates Taiwan," she said.
      "However, I would like to reassure everyone that both our government and the military are prepared, and I will definitely take care of Taiwan."
    He threatened me with a knife.
  2. To menace, or be dangerous.
    The rocks threatened the ship's survival.
  3. To portend, or give a warning of.
    Antonym: promise
    The black clouds threatened heavy rain.
  4. To call into question the validity of (a belief, idea, or viewpoint); to challenge.
    The new information threatened our original hypothesis.
    • 2019 January 26, Kevin Seybold, “Does Science Threaten Belief?”, in Cathedral of Hope[2]:
  5. (figuratively) To be close to equaling or surpassing (a record, etc.)
    • 2000, Lew Freedman, Diamonds in the Rough: Baseball Stories from Alaska, →ISBN, page 69
      The player quickly surmised that things weren't kosher and the suddenly wiser ballplayer threatened the world record for the fifty-yard dash as he sought safety. As Reynolds dived into the van, Dietz and the other players rolled with laughter.

Usage notes


Derived terms



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