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Etymology 1[edit]

From Middle English warnen, warnien ‎(to warn; admonish), from Old English warnian ‎(to take heed; warn), from Proto-Germanic *warnōną ‎(to warn; take heed), from Proto-Indo-European *wer- ‎(to be aware; give heed). Cognate with Dutch waarnen, German Low German warnen, German warnen, Swedish varna, Icelandic varna.



warn ‎(third-person singular simple present warns, present participle warning, simple past and past participle warned)

  1. (transitive) To make (someone) aware of impending danger etc. [from 11th c.]
    We waved a flag to warn the oncoming traffic.
  2. (transitive) To caution (someone) against unwise or unacceptable behaviour. [from 11th c.]
    He was warned against crossing the railway tracks at night.
    Don't let me catch you running in the corridor again, I warn you.
  3. (transitive) To notify (someone) of something untoward. [from 13th c.]
    I phoned to warn him of the rail strike.
  4. (intransitive) To give warning.
    • 1526, William Tyndale, tr. Bible, Galatians II, 9-10:
      then Iames Cephas and Iohn [...] agreed with vs that we shuld preache amonge the Hethen and they amonge the Iewes: warnynge only that we shulde remember the poore.
    • 1973, Thomas Pynchon, Gravity's Rainbow, Penguin 1995, p. 177:
      She is his deepest innocence in spaces of bough and hay before wishes were given a different name to warn that they might not come true [...].
    • 1988, Salman Rushdie, The Satanic Verses, Picador 2000, p. 496:
      She warned that he was seriously thinking of withdrawing his offer to part the waters, ‘so that all you'll get at the Arabian Sea is a saltwater bath [...]’.
    • 1991, Clive James, ‘Making Programmes the World Wants’, The Dreaming Swimmer, Jonathan Cape 1992:
      Every country has its resident experts who warn that imported television will destroy the national consciousness and replace it with Dallas, The Waltons, Star Trek and Twin Peaks.
The translations below need to be checked and inserted above into the appropriate translation tables, removing any numbers. Numbers do not necessarily match those in definitions. See instructions at Help:How to check translations.
Usage notes[edit]
  • The intransitive sense is considered colloquial by some, and is explicitly proscribed by, for example, the Daily Telegraph style guide (which prefers give warning).
Derived terms[edit]

Etymology 2[edit]

From Middle English wernen, from a combination of Old English wyrnan, wiernan (from Proto-Germanic *warnijaną; compare Danish værne) and Old English wearnian (from Proto-Germanic *warnōną; compare Swedish varna).


warn ‎(third-person singular simple present warns, present participle warning, simple past and past participle warned)

  1. (obsolete) To refuse, deny (someone something).
    • 1485, Sir Thomas Malory, chapter xj, in Le Morte Darthur, book XVI:
      And yf thou warne her loue she shalle goo dye anone yf thou haue no pyte on her / that sygnefyeth the grete byrd / the whiche shalle make the to warne her