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See also: Warn



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 (obsolete), 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 (something impending); especially:
    1. (transitive) To make (someone) aware of impending danger, evil, etc. [from 11th c.]
      We waved a flag to warn the oncoming traffic about the accident.
      I phoned to warn him of the road closure.
    2. (transitive) To notify or inform (someone, about something). [from at least the 13th c.]
      I warned him he'd be getting a huge box of birthday presents from me.
    3. (transitive) To summon (someone) to or inform of a formal meeting or duty.
      The sheriff warned her to appear in court.
      • 1741–2 March 4, Books of Keelman's Hospital, Newcastle, quoted in Northumberland Words (1894):
        Committee being warned these following were absent or short [...]
      • 1874, Walter Gregor, An Echo of the Olden Time from the North of Scotland, page 142:
        The people had been invited to the funeral, or warnt, by a special messenger a few days before the funeral took place.
      • 1889, Reports of Cases Argued and Determined in the Supreme Court of the [State of] Vermont, page 490:
        [...] the plaintiff fraudulently warned the meeting for November 15, giving only five days' notice [...]
    4. (transitive, intransitive, of a clock, possibly obsolete) To make a sound (e.g. clicking or whirring) indicating that it is about to strike or chime (an hour).
      • 1885, Walter Towers, Poems, Songs, and Ballads, page 189:
        Hark! the clock is warning ten;
      • 1885, Emma Marshall, In the East Country with Sir Thomas Browne, page 106:
        No, not a word more, Andrew; the clock has warned for nine, and I am off.
      • 1902, Violet Jacob, The Sheep-Stealers, page 399:
        The clock warned, and the hands pointed to a few minutes before the hour. The preacher looked towards it. "And, as you sit here," he cried," the Old Year is dragging out its last moments and the New Year is coming up —"
      • For more quotations using this term, see Citations:warn.
  2. (transitive) To caution or admonish (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. (chiefly with "off", "away", and similar words) To advise or order to go or stay away.
    A sign warns trespassers off/away from the site.
  4. (intransitive) To give warning.
    • 1526, [William Tyndale, transl.], The Newe Testamẽt [] (Tyndale Bible), [Worms, Germany: Peter Schöffer], →OCLC, Galatians :[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, published 1995, page 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, published 2000, page 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”, in The Dreaming Swimmer, Jonathan Cape, published 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.

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]


The translations below need to be checked and inserted above into the appropriate translation tables. See instructions at Wiktionary:Entry layout § Translations.


Middle English[edit]

Etymology 1[edit]



  1. Alternative form of weren

Etymology 2[edit]



  1. Alternative form of wernen
    • 1485, Sir Thomas Malory, “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
      (please add an English translation of this quote)