The Meaning of Harbinger: What It Is and How To Use It

Do you know the definition of harbinger? This article will provide you with all of the information you need on the word harbinger, including its definition, usage, word origin, example sentences, and more!

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What does the word harbinger mean?

According to the Merriam-Webster unabridged dictionary of the English language as well as other dictionaries like Collins English dictionary and American Heritage, the word Harbinger is a noun that refers to something that foreshadows a future event or gives an anticipatory sign of what is to come. This thing might originate or help open up a new method, activities, technology, or some other initiation of a major change. Archaically, this noun referred to a person who was sent ahead to provide lodging for royalty or the army, like an advance representative of an army who was meant to secure lodgings for the troops or an officer of the English Royal household who secured housing for the royal train in advance of a royal party. This word can also be used as a verb to mean to give warning or prediction of. This word is of Proto-Germanic origin, from Middle English herbergeour from herbege lodging, German Herberge and Old High German heriberga army shelter. The pronunciation of harbinger is har-bin-jer. 

There are also many different languages that use words that mean harbinger. You may notice that many of these words look and sound similar to one another, like Dutch herberg to the English harbour. These cognates are often formed when words have a similar origin in languages like Latin or Greek. This list of translation of harbinger is provided by Word Sense.

  •   Italian: (person) messaggero‎ (masc.), araldo‎ (masc.), (thing) presagio‎ (masc.), precursore‎, foriero‎, profeta‎ (masc.), premonitore‎ (masc.), premonitrice‎ (fem.)
  •   French: présage‎ (masc.)
  •   Korean: 선구자‎, 전조‎
  •   Russian: провозве́стник‎ (masc.), предве́стник‎ (masc.)
  •   Mandarin: 預兆‎, 预兆‎ (yùzhào)
  •   Serbo-Croatian: predšasnik‎, najava‎, navesnik‎, nagovest‎, nagoveštaj‎
  •   Catalan: anunciador‎ (masc.), herald‎ (masc.)
  •   Latin: praenuntius‎ (masc.)
  •   Japanese: 前触れ‎ (まえぶれ, maebure)
  •   Swedish: förebud‎, förlöpare‎
  •   German: (person) Vorbote‎ (masc.), (thing) Omen‎ (neut.), Vorzeichen‎ (neut.)
  •   Finnish: airut‎
  •   Greek: προάγγελος‎ (masc.), πρόδρομος‎ (masc.)
  •   Dutch: voorbode‎ (masc.)
  •   Spanish: anunciador‎ (masc.), anunciante‎ (masc.)
  •   Welsh: cennad‎ (masc.), rhagredegydd‎ (masc.)
  •   Irish: réamhtheachtaire‎ (masc.)
  •   Portuguese: arauto‎ (pl.)
  •   Icelandic: boðberi‎ (masc.), fyrirboði‎ (masc.), undanfari‎ (masc.)
  •   Polish: zwiastun‎ (masc.)
  •   Bulgarian: предвестник‎ (masc.)

How can the word harbinger be used in a sentence?

The word Harbinger can be used in many different sentences in American English and British English. There are many examples of a harbinger, including a harbinger of the future, a harbinger of summer, a harbinger of winter, or even a harbinger of national disasters. Below are many usage examples of harbinger. 

The host was considered a harbinger of entertainment, since despite the rising losses, he continued to provide a place for people to perform as their debut. He is considered an important harbinger of Opera and other different media. 

Power failures in the Texas borough were a harbinger of not only the current predicament of a lack of electricity but the major signal that the power grid had an important flaw of attachment in America’s electrical systems. 

The huge rally last Sunday on the common at Princeton University was a true harbinger of spring and a notice of the coming warmth. The slush on the ground from the snowpiles melting and the dirty cars also indicated a slower schedule of precipitation and a springtime anomaly of sunshine. 

Making a list of the major meals of a day, a list of snacks, and an airport and travel itinerary was a harbinger that the family would be taking a vacation soon. They looked forward to the next day’s journey to the inn. Every year they took a pilgrimage to Minnesota to visit family.

The windchill on the chlorine swimming pool last Thursday was a harbinger of the chilly fall swimming season the team had ahead of them. 

The sickness of the livestock and the lack of cultivation was a harbinger that the organic structure of the soil was failing.

The confrontational demonstrations at Monday’s rallies in Ireland were a harbinger of disaster. Booze bottles were thrown out of spite, and these negative signals were a predecessor to the first crack of the bat on someone’s skull.

The unstable bond market and NASDAQ correction was a harbinger of the earnings reports The company would soon face. They knew that they were gambling when investing in certain things, but they did not think they would end up with such a dollar weakness. 

Her natural born talent was a harbinger of the fame she would soon obtain. 

What are synonyms for the word harbinger?

There are many different words that a person can use in place of the word harbinger. These are called synonyms, which are words and phrases that have the same definition as another word or phrase. Synonyms are useful to know if you want to avoid repeating yourself as well as if you are trying to expand your vocabulary. The below list of synonyms for the word harbinger is provided by Thesaurus

  •   intuition
  •   auspice
  •   funny feeling
  •   prognostic
  •   foretoken
  •   herald
  •   winds of change
  •   apprehension
  •   misgiving
  •   foreboding
  •   signal
  •   presage
  •   forewarning
  •   feeling in bones
  •   idea
  •   handwriting on wall
  •   prenotion
  •   premonition
  •   worriment
  •   wind change
  •   precursor
  •   bodement
  •   boding
  •   portent
  •   omen
  •   presentiment
  •   suspicion
  •   straw
  •   sign
  •   forerunner
  •   indication
  •   vibes
  •   feeling
  •   prognostication
  •   vibrations
  •   prophecy
  •   augury
  •   warning
  •   writing on the wall
  •   sinking feeling
  •   apprehensiveness
  •   messenger
  •   hunch
  •   winds

What is the origin of the word harbinger?

According to Etymonline, the word harbinger has been used since the late 15th century Middle English. This was originally herbengar, a word that referred to a person who was sent ahead to arrange lodgings for a monarch or army. This was an alteration of the Middle English herberger which referred to an innkeeper. This late 12th century word comes from the Old French herbergeor/herbergeour and Old French herbergere, an agent noun that referred to an innkeeper from herbergier, meaning to provide lodging, from the French herber. This comes from the Frankish heriberga, which has cognates in Old Saxon heriberga and Old High German heriberga meaning army shelter. This comes from the Germanic compound harja-bergaz  which is also the source of the related words harbor and auberge. Harbinger has been used as a verb as harbinge since the 1640s.

Overall, the word harbinger ( här′bin-jėr) means to foreshadow or refers to a pioneer or originator, or archaically to secure lodging in advance of troops or royal retinue. This word comes from the Middle English herbengar and Indo-European roots. This word most commonly has a negative connotation, but there can also be a positive harbinger. 


  1. HARBINGER Synonyms: 10 Synonyms & Antonyms for HARBINGER  | Thesaurus 
  2. Harbinger | Meaning, Origin, Translations | Word Sense
  3. harbinger | Origin and meaning of harbinger | Online Etymology Dictionary 
  4. Harbinger | Definition of Harbinger | Merriam-Webster