Intermediate+ Word of the Day: beckon

beckon (verb) /ˈbɛkən/ LISTEN

To beckon means ‘to invite somebody to come close or follow you by making a gesture with your hand, head, or finger.’ Beckon can also mean ‘to entice somebody’ and it can be used to indicate authority, but it doesn’t always have this connotation. It can also be used figuratively about dreams or wishes that seem to be calling to someone. It can be used with a direct object (“beckon someone”) or with the preposition “to” (“beckon to someone”).

Example sentences

  • The old lady was a little deaf and she beckoned me to come closer so she could hear me better.
  • The receptionist beckoned to me and I followed him into the office.
  • The prince knew he should turn back, but the beautiful woman kept beckoning him to follow.
  • Charlie set out for Hollywood, feeling sure that fame and fortune beckoned.

In pop culture

Listen to Glenn Miller singing “High on a Windy Hill” here. Listen out for the lyric “Oh, into eternity, your love will beckon me.”

Did you know?

In both the US and the UK, it is common to beckon people using either just the index finger (the finger next to the thumb), curling it towards you, or all four fingers. However it is important to be aware that gestures for beckoning may be different in different countries. In some countries, these gestures are considered very offensive when directed toward people. In such countries, those gestures suggest you consider the person you are beckoning to be inferior to you. So, when you are traveling, make sure you know whether it is OK to beckon someone and what gesture to use before you do so!

Other forms

beckoner (noun)


Beckon dates back to before the year 950, as the Old English verb gebē(a)cnian (Middle English bekenen, beknen, becnen or becnien), and originally meant ‘to give a silent signal with a nod or gesture.’ It can be traced back to the Proto-Indo-European root bha– (to shine). Beckon is related to the Old Saxon boknian, the Old High German bouhnen and the Old Norse bákna (all meaning beckon), as well as the Sanskrit bhati (shines or glitters), the Greek phainein (‘to bring to light’ or ‘to make appear’), and phantazein (to make visible or display), the Old Irish ban (white, light or ray of light), and English words such as banner, beacon, buoy, emphasis, fantasy, pant, phantom, phase, phenomenon, photocopy, photograph, phosphorus, sycophant and tiffany.

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