• IPA: /ˈsɪɡnɪfaɪ/


  1. To create a sign out of something.
  2. To give (something) a meaning or an importance.
  3. To show one’s intentions with a sign etc.; to indicate, announce.
    • circa 1592 William Shakespeare, Richard III (play), Act I, Scene 4,
      I’ll to the king; and signify to him
      That thus I have resign’d my charge to you.
    • 1611, King James version of the Bible, Book of Acts 25.27,
      For it seemeth to me unreasonable to send a prisoner, and not withal to signify the crimes laid against him.
    • 1729, Jonathan Swift and Thomas Sheridan, The Intelligencer, no. 19, “The Hardships of the Irish being deprived of their Silver, and decoyed into America,” pp. 207-208,
      In my humble Opinion, it would be no unseasonable Condescension, if the Government would Graciously please to signify to the pour loyal Protestant Subjects of Ireland, either that this miserable Want of Silver, is not possible to be remedy’d in any Degree […] or else, that it doth not stand with the good Pleasure of England, to suffer any Silver at all among us.
    • 1887, Thomas Hardy, The Woodlanders, Chapter 41,
      Tapping at the window, he signified that she should open the casement, and when she had done this he handed in the key to her.
    • 1952, Neville Shute, The Far Country (novel), London: Heinemann, Chapter Two,
      “Do you want to write a cheque, Granny?” The old eyes signified assent.
  4. To mean; to betoken.
    • circa 1605 William Shakespeare, Macbeth, Act V, Scene 5,
      Life’s […] a tale
      Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
      Signifying nothing.
    • 1841, Charles Dickens, Barnaby Rudge, Chapter 7,
      Mrs Varden was a lady of what is commonly called an uncertain temper—a phrase which being interpreted signifies a temper tolerably certain to make everybody more or less uncomfortable.
    • 1961, Walker Percy, The Moviegoer, New York: Avon, 1980, Chapter Four, p. 143,
      Leaning over, she gives Uncle Oscar a furious affectionate pat which signifies that he is a good fellow and we all love him. It also signifies that he can shut up.
    • 1984, Julian Barnes, Flaubert's Parrot, New York: Vintage, 1990, Chapter 11,
      There are three messages which can be sent by means of the convolvulus. A white one signifies Why are you fleeing me? A pink one signifies I shall bind myself to you. A blue one signifies I shall wait for better days.
  5. To make a difference; to matter (in negative or interrogative expressions).
    • 1699, uncredited translator, The Characters, or, The Manners of the Age by Jean de La Bruyère, London: John Bullord, “Of the Heart,” p. 84,
      To be but in the company of those we love, satisfies us: it does not signify whether we speak to ’em or not, whether we think on them or on indifferent things. To be near ’em is all.
    • 1722, Daniel Defoe, Moll Flanders, London: W. Chetwood & T. Edling, pp. 339-340,
      Well says I, and are you thus easy? ay, says she, I can’t help myself, what signifyes being sad? If I am hang’d there’s an End of me, says she, and away she turns Dancing, and Sings as she goes […]
    • 1793, John Aikin, Evenings at Home, London: J. Johnson, Volume 3, Thirteenth Evening, p. 67,
      I told her it was not I that broke her window, but it did not signify; so she dragged me to the light, lugging and scratching me all the while, and then said she would inform against me […]
    • 1817, Walter Scott, Rob Roy (novel), Volume I, Chapter 9,
      Well, it does not signify complaining, but there are three things for which I am much to be pitied, if any one thought it worth while to waste any compassion upon me.
    • 1865, Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Chapter 12,
      Alice looked at the jury-box, and saw that, in her haste, she had put the Lizard in head downwards […] She soon got it out again, and put it right; ‘not that it signifies much,’ she said to herself; ‘I should think it would be quite as much use in the trial one way up as the other.’
    • 1938, Graham Greene, Brighton Rock (novel), London: Heinemann, 1962, Part One, Chapter 3, p. 37,
      “He was Charles. You can read it there. Charles Hale.”
      “That don’t signify,” Ida said. “A man always has a different name for strangers. […] ”
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