Intermediate+ Word of the Day: dawn

dawn (noun, verb) /dɔn/ LISTEN

Dawn is the first appearance of daylight in the morning and, used figuratively, it is the beginning or rise of anything. As a verb, to dawn means ‘to begin to grow light in the morning’ or, figuratively, ‘to begin or develop.’ Followed by on or upon, dawn means ‘to begin to be known, understood, or seen.’

Example sentences

  • The farmer got up at dawn.
  • This is the dawn of a new age.
  • We got home just as day was dawning.
  • An era of peace and prosperity is dawning.
  • It's just dawned on me that I forgot to send an attachment with that email.

In pop culture

From Dusk till Dawn is a 1996 US movie, directed by Robert Rodriguez and written by Quentin Tarantino. You can see the movie trailer here:

Additional information

Dawn is also a female given name.

Did you know?

Although people may use dawn and sunrise interchangeably, dawn begins when the first light appears in the sky in the morning, before the sun actually rises.


Dawn dates back to the late 12th century. The Middle English verb dawen or dauen, meaning ‘to grow light in the morning’ or ‘to become day’ is a variation of the noun dauing or dauinge, meaning ‘the period between darkness and sunrise,’ from the Old English dagung, which itself evolved from the late Old English verb dagian (to become day). Some linguists use this Old English verb as the first instance of dawn, dating it back to the early 12th century, even though the verb’s evolution was not a straight line, but went through a noun back into a verb. Whichever way we look at it, the verb is a derivative of the Old English dæg (day), which dates back to before the year 900 and can be traced back to the Proto-Germanic dagaz and the Proto-Indo-European root agh- (day). Dawn is related to the Old Norse daga, the Middle Dutch and Middle Low German dagen, the Old High German tagēn and the German tagen (all meaning ‘to dawn’), as well as the Sanskrit dah (to burn), the Lithuanian dagas (hot season), the Old Prussian dagis (summer) and English words like daily, daisy, holiday and today. The figurative sense, ‘to begin to develop’ first appeared in the early 18th century, while ‘to become apparent or evident to the mind’ was first used in the mid-19th century. The noun dawn comes from the verb and dates back to the late 16th century. While there was a related noun with a similar meaning in Old and Middle English (dagung and then dauing), it fell into disuse and disappeared for centuries before dawn took on this sense again. During those centuries, dawn was called dayspring (around 1300), day-gleam (late 14th century) and finally dawning (15th century). The figurative sense of dawn, meaning ‘first opening or expansion,’ dates back to the early 17th century. It has been used as a female given name since the 1920s, but became popular in the 1960s.

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