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From Middle English derkenen, dirkenen, from Old English *deorcnian, *diercnian (to darken), from Proto-West Germanic *dirkinōn (to darken), equivalent to dark +‎ -en.

Cognate with Scots derken, durken (to darken), Old High German tarchanjan, terchinen (to darken), Middle High German terken, derken (to darken).





darken (third-person singular simple present darkens, present participle darkening, simple past and past participle darkened)

  1. (transitive) To make dark or darker by reducing light.
  2. (intransitive) To become dark or darker (having less light).
    • 1783, William Blake, “The Couch of Death”, in Richard Herne Shepherd, editor, Poetical Sketches[1], London: Basil Montagu Pickering, published 1868, page 84:
      [] the owl and the bat flew round the darkening trees:
    • 1930, Zane Grey, “Chapter Twelve”, in The Shepherd of Guadeloupe[2]:
      [] leaning at her window she watched the end of that eventful day darken over the ranges.
  3. (impersonal) To get dark (referring to the sky, either in the evening or as a result of cloud).
    • 1847 October 16, Currer Bell [pseudonym; Charlotte Brontë], chapter XV, in Jane Eyre. An Autobiography. [], volume I, London: Smith, Elder, and Co., [], →OCLC, page 289:
      Well, I must go in now; and you too: it darkens.
    • 1901, William Stearns Davis, “Chapter 4”, in A Friend of Cæsar[3], New York: Macmillan, page 57:
      Then they passed out from the Forum, forced their way through the crowded streets, and soon were through the Porta Ratumena, outside the walls, and struck out across the Campus Martius, upon the Via Flaminia. It was rapidly darkening.
    • 1945, Gertrude Stein, Wars I Have Seen[4], London: B.T. Batsford, page 13:
      From babyhood until fourteen, to play in a garden in the evening when it is darkening is a legend.
    • 1996, Colm Tóibín, “Portrait of the Artist as a Spring Lamb”, in The Kilfenora Teaboy: A Study of Paul Durcan[5], Dublin: New Island Books, page 7:
      It had been fine all morning, but it was darkening now, the weather was going to get worse.
    • 2005, David Almond, chapter 10, in Clay[6], London: Hodder Literature, page 44:
      He looked up. It was darkening here as well. Sky getting red, the edge of the quarry dark and jagged against it.
  4. (transitive) To make dark or darker in colour.
    • 2009, Alice Munro, “Free Radicals”, in Too Much Happiness, Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, page 118:
      She puts on lipstick and darkens her eyebrows, which are now very scanty []
  5. (intransitive) To become dark or darker in colour.
    • 1979, Mary Stewart, The Last Enchantment[7], New York: Fawcett Crest, Book 4, Chapter 4, p. 405:
      The lovely hair had lost its rose-gold glimmer, and had darkened to rose-brown []
  6. (transitive) To render gloomy, darker in mood.
  7. (intransitive) To become gloomy, darker in mood.
    • 1797, Ann Radcliffe, The Italian, London: T. Cadell Jun[ior] and W. Davies, Volume 2, Chapter 9, p. 303,[9]
      His countenance darkened while he spoke []
    • 1942, Emily Carr, “Mrs. Crane”, in The Book of Small:
      Alice’s big eyes darkened with trouble.
  8. (transitive) To blind, impair the eyesight.
  9. (intransitive) To be blinded, lose one’s eyesight.
  10. (transitive) To cloud, obscure, or perplex; to render less clear or intelligible.
  11. (transitive) To make foul; to sully; to tarnish.
  12. (intransitive) To be extinguished or deprived of vitality, to die.





Derived terms



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