Definition of portent in US English:



  • 1A sign or warning that something, especially something momentous or calamitous, is likely to happen.

    ‘they believed that wild birds in the house were portents of death’
    ‘JFK's political debut was a portent of the fame to come’
    • ‘The artist began to feel a general unease as things that happened and things he saw seemed to be signs and portents of some great event.’
    • ‘Alec, despite his grounding in the rational science of making lots of money, is swayed by symbols and portents, seemingly mundane signs that he interprets superstitiously to be indicators of the path he is meant to pursue.’
    • ‘Biblical preaching calls us to pay attention to the portents of death masquerading as success and the tokens of resurrection hope in the midst of despair.’
    • ‘For someone who was chosen shortly after birth by means of a variety of signs and portents few of us would set any store by in ordinary circumstances, he's an extraordinarily wise human being and a powerful force for good.’
    • ‘We've been reading the tea leaves and rolling the bones, and the signs and portents tell us, something totally wicked this way comes.’
    • ‘There is a scent of change in the air, as a devastated people eagerly interpret the smallest of signs as portents of a new beginning.’
    • ‘The major labor market problems faced by out-of-school youth during the 1990s carry portents for likely developments as their numbers increase in the years ahead.’
    • ‘Don't you think that this event is a portent of things to come soon too?’
    • ‘I thought of how, in Tibetan Buddhism, tigers are symbols of strength and compassion, sometimes also portents of death.’
    • ‘These were signs and portents, she realized, visitations and apparitions from a tangled mess of folklore, some unrecognizable and others merely silly.’
    • ‘The signs and portents are not very positive, however.’
    • ‘Short of slaughtering a wild animal and rummaging about in its entrails, every sign, portent and augury had been examined beforehand.’
    • ‘We're not there yet but the signs and portents are mounting up.’
    • ‘The devastation wreaked by Hurricane Katrina, with hundreds killed, is likely a portent of worse to come in a warming world.’
    • ‘Oblivious to the signs and portents that he's making a very big mistake, he takes the job.’
    • ‘In general I do not think of myself as a particularly superstitious person, but then things like this happen and I realize I am constantly on the look out for signs and portents in the world around me.’
    • ‘Particularly for growth companies, the signs and portents were mixed even prior to the attacks on September 11, and since then they've grown only murkier.’
    • ‘But signs and portents certainly suggest this power surge could help manifest something you've always wanted.’
    • ‘Interpreting deformities as portents or signs of divine displeasure continued well into the sixteenth century.’
    • ‘The confluence of events was an ominous portent for Newman.’
    omen, sign, indication, presage, warning, forewarning, harbinger, augury, signal, promise, threat, menace, ill omen, forecast, prediction, prognostication, prophecy, straw in the wind, writing on the wall, hint, auspice
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    1. 1.1 Future significance.
      ‘an omen of grave portent for the tribe’
      • ‘His opening cadenza is filled with tension and dark portent, and his tempos, as usual, are well judged.’
      • ‘The tender attention paid by the wife to her husband's body, the detailed steps of her betrayal, and the subtle note of portent, all serve to heighten the drama.’
      • ‘Now an even greater silence filled the air, filled with portent and emotion.’
      • ‘Not your typical hardcore-punk funfest, this one comes heavily laden with socio-political portent.’
      • ‘To my mind, the sight of a bored animal locked in a cage holds way too much portent with respect to most relationships to be an image one would want to introduce so early in the dating game.’
      • ‘I sit on a bentwood chair in a patch of sunlight as if I'm in a single spot, centre of a dim-lit stage, shadow-filled with movement and with portent.’
      • ‘It's birthday week so everything seems meaningful and full of portent.’
      • ‘Beginnings and endings, the dual portals of narrative, are often charged with portent and revelation.’
      • ‘If you believe that fundamentals eventually catch up to market behavior, this is not a particularly good portent for stocks going forward.’
      • ‘A late-night ambiance of portent and dread permeates the music, deepened by the combustible dimension of the band's playing, a tense containment that threatens to explode at any moment.’
      • ‘I cannot express strongly enough how horrified I am at what has happened and its evil and terrifying portent for the future.’
      • ‘That's how the album was received on its release in November 1975: as beacon, portent, and catalyst.’
      • ‘For 24 years these words carried with them a chilling, murderous portent.’
      • ‘A far more chilling episode, little remarked and with even graver portent for the future of the democratic process, occurred on November 12.’
      • ‘This paragraph is laden with portent and grim irony.’
      • ‘It's a clumsy, unnecessary portent of doom, both for Gilda's life and for the next two hours of watching a clumsy and unnecessary movie.’
      • ‘When the building is evacuated, she stays behind unnoticed and overhears a conversation of sinister portent in her native Ku tongue on the microphone system.’
      • ‘But sweeping narrative is not Leaf's style; instead, she represents incisive moments, many of them funny, some harrowing, and all equally free of portent and nostalgia.’
      • ‘On the eve of my first day of paid post-university employment she rang me up and in a voice dripping with portent, said: ‘Listen, I want to tell you something.’’
      • ‘I arrived home with renewed determination, I was going to study and make the heavy feeling of dread and portent disappear.’
      significance, importance, import, consequence, meaning, meaningfulness, moment, momentousness, weight, weightiness, cruciality
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  • 2literary An exceptional or wonderful person or thing.

    ‘what portent can be greater than a pious notary?’


Late 16th century: from Latin portentum ‘omen, token’, from the verb portendere (see portend).