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’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘These were signs and portents, she realized, visitations and apparitions from a tangled mess of folklore, some unrecognizable and others merely silly.’
    • ‘We're not there yet but the signs and portents are mounting up.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘But signs and portents certainly suggest this power surge could help manifest something you've always wanted.’
    • ‘The devastation wreaked by Hurricane Katrina, with hundreds killed, is likely a portent of worse to come in a warming world.’
    • ‘Don't you think that this event is a portent of things to come soon too?’
    • ‘The signs and portents are not very positive, however.’
    • ‘Interpreting deformities as portents or signs of divine displeasure continued well into the sixteenth century.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘The confluence of events was an ominous portent for Newman.’
    • ‘Short of slaughtering a wild animal and rummaging about in its entrails, every sign, portent and augury had been examined beforehand.’
    • ‘We've been reading the tea leaves and rolling the bones, and the signs and portents tell us, something totally wicked this way comes.’
    • ‘I thought of how, in Tibetan Buddhism, tigers are symbols of strength and compassion, sometimes also portents of death.’
    • ‘Oblivious to the signs and portents that he's making a very big mistake, he takes the job.’
    • ‘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.’
    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
    View synonyms
    1. 1.1 Future significance.
      ‘an omen of grave portent for the tribe’
      • ‘That's how the album was received on its release in November 1975: as beacon, portent, and catalyst.’
      • ‘Beginnings and endings, the dual portals of narrative, are often charged with portent and revelation.’
      • ‘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 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.’
      • ‘Now an even greater silence filled the air, filled with portent and emotion.’
      • ‘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.’’
      • ‘If you believe that fundamentals eventually catch up to market behavior, this is not a particularly good portent for stocks going forward.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘I arrived home with renewed determination, I was going to study and make the heavy feeling of dread and portent disappear.’
      • ‘It's birthday week so everything seems meaningful and full of portent.’
      • ‘For 24 years these words carried with them a chilling, murderous portent.’
      • ‘Not your typical hardcore-punk funfest, this one comes heavily laden with socio-political portent.’
      • ‘This paragraph is laden with portent and grim irony.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘I cannot express strongly enough how horrified I am at what has happened and its evil and terrifying portent for the future.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘His opening cadenza is filled with tension and dark portent, and his tempos, as usual, are well judged.’
      • ‘A far more chilling episode, little remarked and with even graver portent for the future of the democratic process, occurred on November 12.’
      significance, importance, import, consequence, meaning, meaningfulness, moment, momentousness, weight, weightiness, cruciality
      View synonyms
  • 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).