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Etymology 1[edit]

From Middle English sweren, swerien, from Old English swerian (to swear, take an oath of office), from Proto-West Germanic *swarjan, from Proto-Germanic *swarjaną (to speak, swear), from Proto-Indo-European *swer- (to swear).

Cognate with West Frisian swarre (to swear), Saterland Frisian swera (to swear), Dutch zweren (to swear, vow), Low German swören (to swear), sweren, German schwören (to swear), Danish sværge, Swedish svära (to swear), Icelandic sverja (to swear), Russian свара (svara, quarrel). Also cognate to Albanian var (to hang, consider, to depend from) through Proto-Indo-European.

The original sense in all Germanic languages is “to take an oath”. The sense “to use bad language” developed in Middle English and is based on the Christian prohibition against swearing in general (cf. Matthew 5:33-37) and invoking God’s name in particular (i.e. frequent swearing was considered similar to the use of obscene words).


swear (third-person singular simple present swears, present participle swearing, simple past swore or (archaic) sware, past participle sworn or (nonstandard) swore)

  1. (transitive, intransitive) To take an oath, to promise intensely, solemnly, and/or with legally binding effect.
    Synonyms: pledge, vow
    The knight swore not to return to the palace until he had found the treasure.
  2. (transitive) To take an oath that an assertion is true.
    Synonyms: depose, affirm, testify
    The witness swore that the person she had seen running out of the bank was a foot shorter than the accused.
  3. (transitive) To promise intensely that something is true; to strongly assert.
    I swear I don't know what you're talking about.
    My little brother is such a pest, I swear.
  4. (transitive) To administer an oath to (a person).
    Let the witness be sworn.
  5. (transitive, intransitive) To use offensive, profane, or obscene language.
    Synonyms: curse, execrate, turn the air blue; see also Thesaurus:swear
    • 1956, Anthony Burgess, Time for a Tiger (The Malayan Trilogy), published 1972, page 38:
      An Australian was once appointed on contract, but he swore too much.
Usage notes[edit]
Derived terms[edit]
The translations below need to be checked and inserted above into the appropriate translation tables. See instructions at Wiktionary:Entry layout § Translations.

Etymology 2[edit]

From the above verb, or from Middle English sware, from Old English swaru, from Proto-Germanic *swarō.


swear (plural swears)

  1. A swear word.
    Synonyms: curse, expletive, four-letter word; see also Thesaurus:swear word
    • 1892, Robert Louis Stevenson, The Beach of Falesá:
      You might think it funny to hear this Kanaka girl come out with a big swear. No such thing. There was no swearing in her — no, nor anger; she was beyond anger, and meant the word simple and serious.
    • 1900, Joseph Conrad, Lord Jim, page v. 27:
      [A]ccording to his kind the man would smile cynically, or look sad, or let out a swear or two.
Derived terms[edit]

Etymology 3[edit]

From Middle English swere, swer, swar, from Old English swǣr, swār (heavy, heavy as a burden, of great weight, oppressive, grievous, painful, unpleasant, sad, feeling or expressing grief, grave, slow, dull, sluggish, slothful, indolent, inactive from weakness, enfeebled, weak), from Proto-West Germanic *swār, from Proto-Germanic *swēraz (heavy), from Proto-Indo-European *swer- (heavy).

Cognate with West Frisian swier (heavy), Dutch zwaar (heavy, hard, difficult), German schwer (heavy, hard, difficult), Swedish svår (heavy, hard, severe), Latin sērius (earnest, grave, solemn, serious) and Albanian varrë (wound, plague).

Alternative forms[edit]


swear (comparative swearer or more swear, superlative swearest or most swear)

  1. (Northern England, Scotland) Heavy.
    Synonyms: massive, massy, weighty
  2. (Northern England, Scotland) Top-heavy; too high.
    Synonym: overbalanced
  3. (Northern England, Scotland) Dull; lazy; slow.
    Synonyms: idle, work-shy; see also Thesaurus:lazy
    • 1881, Walter Gregor, chapter XXII, in Notes on the Folk-lore of the North-east of Scotland, London: Folk-Lore Society, page 161:
      Rise up gueedewife, an dinna be sweer, / B'soothan, b'soothan, / An deal yir chirity t' the peer, / An awa b'mony a toon.
  4. (Northern England, Scotland) Reluctant; unwilling.
    Synonyms: disinclined, loath
    • 1805, John Stagg, “A New Year's Epistle”, in Miscellaneous Poems, Workington: W. Borrowdale, page 139:
      But faith, to glump ye I'd be sweer / I wish ye luck o' this new year
    • 1822, James Hogg, The Three Perils of Man:
      My father will maybe be a wee sweer to take ye in, but ye maun make your way on him the best gate ye can; he has the best stockit pantry on Teviot head, but a bit of a Laidlaw's fault, complaining aye maist when he has least reason.
  5. (Northern England, Scotland) Niggardly.
    Synonyms: miserly, penurious; see also Thesaurus:stingy
    • 1714, Robert Smith, Poems of Controversy Betwixt Episcopacy and Presbytery, 2nd edition, Edinburgh: R. Syme & Son, published 1853, page 61:
      For if my Pen shall turn as Sweir's their Purse / I fear this is the last I'll write in Verse
Derived terms[edit]


swear (plural swears)

  1. (Northern England, Scotland) A lazy time; a short rest during working hours (especially field labour); a siesta.
    Synonyms: nap, undermeal


swear (third-person singular simple present swears, present participle swearing, simple past and past participle sweared)

  1. (Northern England, Scotland) To be lazy; rest for a short while during working hours.
    Synonyms: laze about, loaf, take it easy



Old Swedish[edit]


From Proto-Germanic *swihaniz, plural of *swihô, of further unknown origin. Cognate with Latin Suiones, Gothic suehans.


swear m

  1. the Swedes (of Sweden proper)