Don Meaning: Here’s What It Means and How to Use It

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Have you ever heard of the word don? This little word might not seem like much, but it has a couple of important definitions. When used correctly, it makes a perfect addition to your vocabulary in writing and conversation.

So, what does the word don mean? Where did it come from? How is it normally used in the English language? Those are the questions that this article is going to answer.

By the end of this short guide, you’ll have a solid understanding of the word don, its definitions, its etymology, and how to use it. 

What Is the Meaning of the Word Don?

There are actually several different definitions of the word don, pronounced dɒn. Some of them are similar, and some of them have noticeable differences. Let’s check them out!

  • Verb: To put on a piece of clothing
  • Noun: A title for a Spanish gentleman
  • Noun: A high-ranking member of the Italian mob, or the Mafia
  • Noun: A college professor, especially at Oxford or Cambridge 

With the exception of its verb form, all of these definitions have one thing in common: authority. The noun don is typically used to refer to a person who is high-ranking or important within a specific group or organization.

However, the verb form isn’t really related to the rest of the definitions. It simply means the act of putting on an article of clothing. These differing definitions actually have different origins, even though they are spelled the same — but more on that in a moment. 


One of the more common uses of the word don in English is in reference to the Italian Mafia. In a Mafia family, don is a title given to a mafia boss. The don’s authority in the crime family could only be challenged by higher-ranking members in the family or the commission. 

Spanish Gentleman

The word don is also a title of respect given to a Spanish nobleman or gentleman. This title would be placed before a person’s given name, or first name. The old-fashioned Spanish title was a big deal a few centuries ago. 

One of the best examples of don being used this way is in the case of Don Juan or Don Giovanni. This is a fictional Spanish character who is well-known for his ability to seduce women. 

Where Did the Word Don Come From?

To help bring more clarity to the definition of don, let’s look at the history of how it came to be — AKA, its etymology. Again, there are two different origins for this term, so let’s take a look at both. 

First, let’s look at the noun form, meaning authority figure or gentleman. This word, like many in the English language, has its roots in Latin. Its oldest Latin ancestor is the word domus, which means “house.” 

Another Latin word that came from this word is the Latin dominus, which means “master or owner of the house.” In the 1500s, this word took on a shortened form in Spanish and Portuguese, giving us the title of the Spanish don. 

Eventually, the word evolved to simply mean “a person of high importance.” In the 1600s, students at English universities began to use the term don as a slang term to refer to their professors. Eventually, the name stuck, and it is now quite common, but mostly in British English. 

Meanwhile, in Italian, the word took on its own meaning: “boss.” From there, it made its way into American English in the 1950s to refer to the Mafia boss. 

The verb form of the word, meaning to put on an article of clothing, came from a different place altogether. It is actually a slang word that is a contraction of two English words: “do” and “on.” 

People would say, “I do on this shirt.” Eventually, the phrase was shortened simply to don, and the rest is history. 

What Are Some Examples of the Word Don in a Sentence?

Seeing a word in context can help bring more clarity to its definition and how you can use it in your own life. Here are some example sentences that use the word don.

After he donned his cap, he set off on his perilous journey.

If only he had donned his plate mail, he might have had more protection and not been mortally wounded.

I just heard that the don ordered a hit on a fella in upstate New York.

Before you think about disobeying the don, you better consider the consequences. He’s too powerful!

Yeah, I met that guy at the bar last night and saw him charm this girl effortlessly. He’s a proper Don Juan.

The famous book Don Quixote was a literary criticism of the ruling class in Spain and is considered the first novel written in the modern world.

The don let us out of class early, so let’s head down to the pub. 

What Are the Synonyms of the Word Don?

Here are some synonyms of the word don that you might find in a thesaurus.

  • Dress
  • Put on
  • Wear
  • Boss
  • Mob boss
  • Mobster
  • Gentleman
  • Professor
  • Fellow
  • Scholar
  • Lector
  • University professor

What Are Some Antonyms for the Word Don?

And here are some antonyms for the word don.

  • Doff
  • Take off
  • Disrobe

A Final Word on Don

Now you’re familiar with the word don, both as a verb and as an adjective. This word has plenty of uses in both writing and conversation. As a verb, it means to put on clothing, and as a noun, it can mean either an Italian mob boss, a Spanish gentleman, or an English professor.


Cervantes’ “Don Quixote”: A Celebration of the Spanish Language | Library of Congress 

DON | Cambridge English Dictionary

Mafia Speak | Pixel Mafia