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From Middle English vowe, voue, that from Old French vut, in turn from Latin vōtum (a promise, dedication, vow), from vovēre (to promise, vow). Not related to avow. Doublet of vote.


  • IPA(key): /vaʊ/
  • Rhymes: -aʊ
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vow (plural vows)

  1. A solemn promise to perform some act, or behave in a specified manner, especially a promise to live and act in accordance with the rules of a religious order.
    The old hermit, up in the mountains, took a vow of silence.
    • 1611, The Holy Bible, [] (King James Version), London: [] Robert Barker, [], →OCLC, Numbers 30:1–2:
      And Moses spake vnto the heads of the tribes, concerning the children of Israel, saying, This is the thing which the Lord hath commanded.
      If a man vowe a vow vnto the Lord, or sweare an othe to bind his soule with a bond: he shall not breake his word, hee shall doe according to all that proceedeth out of his mouth.
  2. A declaration or assertion.
    • 2013 June 14, Sam Leith, “Where the profound meets the profane”, in The Guardian Weekly, volume 189, number 1, page 37:
      Swearing doesn't just mean what we now understand by "dirty words". It is entwined, in social and linguistic history, with the other sort of swearing: vows and oaths. Consider for a moment the origins of almost any word we have for bad language – "profanity", "curses", "oaths" and "swearing" itself.
  3. (obsolete) A votive offering.
    • 1786, Richard Payne Knight, The Worship of Priapus:
      There are also waxen vows, that represent other parts of the body mixed with them; but of these there are few in comparison of the number of the Priapi.

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vow (third-person singular simple present vows, present participle vowing, simple past and past participle vowed)

  1. (transitive, intransitive) To make a vow; to promise.
  2. (transitive) To make a vow regarding (something).
    The wronged woman vowed revenge.
  3. To declare publicly that one has made a vow, usually to show one's determination or to announce an act of retaliation.
    The rebels vowed to continue their fight.

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Probably originally imitative.[1] Compare wow.



  1. exclamation of astonishment, pleasure, or admiration
    • 1790, Robert Burns, Tam O’ Shanter[1], published 1815:
      She ventur’d forward on the light:
      And, vow! Tam saw an unco sight!
      She ventured forward into the light: And hey! Tam saw a strange sight!


  1. ^ vow, interj.” in the Dictionary of the Scots Language, Edinburgh: Scottish Language Dictionaries.