Definition of threaten in English:



[with object]
  • 1State one's intention to take hostile action against (someone) in retribution for something done or not done.

    ‘how dare you threaten me?’
    ‘the men threatened staff with a handgun’
    with direct speech ‘‘I might sue for damages,’ he threatened’
    • ‘Despite two restraining orders and a spell in jail, he continued to threaten her, and was planning to kill her when he was finally arrested.’
    • ‘I had shot with the intent to kill when a mother and her child were threatened.’
    • ‘The majority of stalkers who threatened their victims subsequently acted upon their stated intentions.’
    • ‘She had no intention of doing so, but she could threaten him.’
    • ‘However, his memos, which were found after his death, showed that the union threatened him to that effect.’
    • ‘The disciples of Jesus, like their master, were also threatened by enemies.’
    • ‘Moments later he was threatened at knifepoint by the man who spoke with a heavy Irish accent.’
    • ‘He said that he had tried to leave the scene but that one of his friends had threatened him if he didn't help them.’
    • ‘One man threatened to stab me; I had to go, but I was so afraid for him.’
    • ‘Tyler spoke in a quiet, menacing voice, his tone threatening anyone who dared defy him.’
    • ‘Three armed robbers wearing balaclavas stole a large amount of clothing from a children's clothes shop after threatening the owner with a machete.’
    • ‘In one incident, a manager was threatened with a knife.’
    • ‘A store manager was threatened with a knife as robbers made off with £800 in an armed raid on a Burnley hire shop.’
    • ‘I am a non-violent person and I would not intentionally threaten Mike or anyone else for that matter.’
    • ‘Instead the black-haired woman kept her gaze focused on him, coiled to act if anything dared threaten her.’
    • ‘We want to send a clear message to management that they cannot single out and threaten union members.’
    • ‘Mr Galloway says he was forced to hide in his car after the men denounced him as a false prophet and threatened him with ‘the gallows’.’
    • ‘The balaclava-clad men used a beer barrel to smash their way into the building and threatened staff before escaping with an undisclosed amount of cash.’
    • ‘A distraught woman has called the station reporting that her partner is threatening her and we speed to the scene.’
    • ‘Three men who seriously sexually assaulted a 27-year-old woman are thought to have been involved in a later incident where unarmed police were threatened with a shotgun.’
    menace, intimidate, browbeat, bully, cow, pressurize, lean on, terrorize, frighten, scare, alarm
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    1. 1.1 State one's intention to do (something undesirable) in retribution.
      ‘the trade unions threatened a general strike’
      with infinitive ‘she forced a scene and Toby threatened to leave’
      • ‘Crane operators have threatened further protest action unless their demands are met.’
      • ‘Cyprus has also threatened to veto Turkey's application over its refusal to recognise the Greek Cypriot government.’
      • ‘She has even threatened to resign rather than sack teachers.’
      • ‘Murphy was furious and threatened repeatedly to sue the production company.’
      • ‘Over the years, the band has had many internal disputes, with members threatening to quit and going for long periods without talking to each other.’
      • ‘He warned clubs threatening to boycott the two-day meeting that they would face sanctions.’
      • ‘The journalists are threatening further action unless the plan is withdrawn.’
      • ‘The US government has also threatened to boycott the conference if it delves into the issue of slavery reparations.’
      • ‘The latter demanded that both parties agree to arbitrate their dispute and threatened to impose heavy fines.’
      • ‘His girlfriend has allegedly threatened to kill herself if he dumps her.’
      • ‘During the dispute, police threatened to arrest two striking workers on the basis of accusations made by government supporters.’
      • ‘The government of Peru is now threatening to sue the university.’
      • ‘Although the change would not take effect until 2013, the unions threatened industrial action.’
      • ‘He vehemently denies the allegations of theft and is now threatening to sue White for libel.’
      • ‘They threatened more violence unless Jakarta took action against his killers.’
      • ‘But the more the critics threaten to leave, the more difficult it will be for them to change course.’
      • ‘The administration opposed that provision from the start and even threatened to veto the bill over it.’
      • ‘Other transport operators are threatening to join the dispute’
      • ‘Workers have threatened further protests unless the restructuring and privatisation plans are withdrawn.’
      • ‘The workers have threatened to continue the dispute, with a two-day strike next week and a further three days the following week.’
  • 2Cause (someone or something) to be vulnerable or at risk; endanger.

    ‘a broken finger threatened his career’
    ‘one of four London hospitals threatened with closure’
    • ‘However, the numbers enrolling for chemistry, physics and maths degree courses are dropping and university science departments are threatened with closure.’
    • ‘The result is that some 12 percent of mammal species and 11 percent of birds and plants are threatened with extinction.’
    • ‘I have, since it was first threatened with closure, been a staunch campaigner both locally and in Parliament to save the maternity unit.’
    • ‘A year ago the inpatients ward was threatened with closure but was saved at the last minute when the doctors surgeries agreed to provide cover.’
    • ‘Many of the nearly 700 species of indigenous plants are threatened with extinction.’
    • ‘Never should the great courses be threatened with obsolescence because of greed and contempt for the treasures of the game.’
    • ‘More than half of Madagascar's freshwater fish are threatened with extinction.’
    • ‘Consuming nations are threatened with a worldwide oil shortage that rattles the stock and bond markets.’
    • ‘They are not threatened with relegation yet, but if they do not alter their disappointing curve they could be treading that line before long.’
    • ‘He now faces returning to Greece in November for the appeal hearing and his haulage business is threatened with bankruptcy, with his lorry impounded by the Greek authorities.’
    • ‘He spent millions on his art collection, yachts, and palatial homes, including a castle in Wales, reining in only when his media empire was threatened with bankruptcy.’
    • ‘Fears have been expressed that as many as 100,000 plant species are currently threatened with extinction worldwide.’
    • ‘Both bird life (including the Kiwi) and many unique types of trees are threatened with extinction because of the brushtail possum.’
    • ‘If the nation is threatened with a national crisis, traditional political rivalry is suspended and all parties work together in the interest of national unity.’
    • ‘One in five of Britain's wild flower species is threatened with extinction, according to the most detailed analysis to date of British flora.’
    • ‘Oil drilling would likely threaten and compromise B.C. industries, such as tourism, and commercial and recreational fishing.’
    • ‘Climate change threatens Britain's crumbling transport system’
    • ‘With the birth rate half of that in 1990 and mortality 50% higher, the country is threatened with rapid depopulation.’
    • ‘The only remaining post office in Kew mysteriously closed its doors last week at a time when branches in various parts of the borough are threatened with the axe.’
    • ‘More than a few species, even humans, may be threatened by climate change.’
    endanger, be a danger to, be a threat to, menace, imperil, put at risk, make vulnerable, expose to danger, put in jeopardy, jeopardize, drive a nail into the coffin of
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    1. 2.1with infinitive Seem likely to produce an unpleasant or unwelcome result.
      ‘the dispute threatened to spread to other cities’
      with object ‘the air was raw and threatened rain’
      • ‘High water boosted the salmon catch for the end of September, and although extreme wind and driving rain threatened to keep anglers at bay, some braved the conditions and got their reward.’
      • ‘Last night they huddled together in sleeping bags as a bone-chilling wind and rain threatened to crack their resolve.’
      • ‘Meanwhile, a dispute which threatened to cause similar disruption in Tralee has been averted.’
      • ‘The transatlantic dispute over genetic engineering threatens to be much more divisive.’
      • ‘The day from about 1 p.m. was dark and wet and in fact a half hour before start, torrential rain threatened to mar the occasion.’
      • ‘There were heavy downpours even before Scotland's biggest rock and pop festival kicked off and the rain threatened to upstage the performers.’
      • ‘As a council worker there have been a number of issues that threatened to turn into disputes, but concessions have been made by employers to avoid them.’
      • ‘The rain which threatened to pour didn't fail to dampen the spirit of the crowd who were determined to get into the spirit of things.’
      • ‘Rain threatened to mar the occasion but a light shower ended before the first round was fired.’
      • ‘Regardless of which side straddles the high moral ground, the dispute is threatening to derail the country's finest ever campaign in a major football tournament.’
      • ‘By mid-2003, lack of rain threatened to push them over that edge.’
      • ‘The dispute threatened to delay the drafting of a constitution, just three days before a deadline for it to be approved by parliament.’
      • ‘It was an overcast day, the light hidden behind grey clouds that smothered the sky and threatened to rain.’
      • ‘The dispute threatened to stop production lines at four car companies in Victoria and South Australia.’
      • ‘A dispute with Jordan which threatened to get messy had been resolved amicably, he said.’
      • ‘The dispute threatens to spread to all hospitals nationwide where non-consultant hospital doctors work.’
      • ‘The day had gotten considerably cooler since lunch and the grey clouds overhead now threatened to rain down on them.’
      • ‘This threatens to skew the results in two directions.’
      • ‘Over all loomed the escalating costs of war that threatened to drive the nation into bankruptcy.’
      • ‘The company commander ordered a withdrawal as the enemy threatened to encircle and isolate the company.’
      warn of, be a warning of, give a warning of, promise, presage, augur, portend, foreshadow, prophesy, be an omen of
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    2. 2.2no object (of something undesirable) seem likely to occur.
      ‘unless war threatened, national politics remained the focus of attention’
      • ‘Given his proven record in command, Franz Josef selected Benedek to command the Habsburg North Army in early 1866 when war with Prussia threatened.’
      • ‘When war threatened, von Tempsky offered his services to the Government.’
      • ‘Now a war is threatening and loads of boys are packing up to get themselves a piece of the ‘glory’.’
      • ‘And now, just to make bad worse, another war was threatening.’
      • ‘Rather, they might have set up production lines that can be activated if war threatens.’
      • ‘Anzac Day became more intense in those days when war was once more threatening or had begun.’
      • ‘A trade war threatened and a giant global corporation was brought to its knees.’
      • ‘Lots of the local farmers bred horses and sold them to the Army, especially when wars threatened.’
      • ‘Fearing the consequences as World War II threatened, FDR asked him to call off the march.’
      • ‘By 1914 and the final stages of the bill, civil war threatened in Britain and Ireland with the option of partition, temporary or permanent, as the only alternative.’
      be likely, be likely to happen, be imminent, be at hand, be close at hand, be near, be close, be approaching, be on the horizon, be just around the corner, be brewing, be gathering, be looming, be coming, be coming soon, be coming up, be on the way, be expected, be anticipated, be in prospect, be in the wind, be in the air, be forthcoming, be impending
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Old English thrēatnian ‘urge or induce, especially by using threats’, from thrēat (see threat).