AskDefine | Define witness

The Collaborative Dictionary

Witness \Wit"ness\, n. [AS. witness, gewitnes, from witan to know. [root]133. See Wit, v. i.] [1913 Webster]
Attestation of a fact or an event; testimony. [1913 Webster] May we with . . . the witness of a good conscience, pursue him with any further revenge? --Shak. [1913 Webster] If I bear witness of myself, my witness is not true. --John v.
[1913 Webster]
That which furnishes evidence or proof. [1913 Webster] Laban said to Jacob, . . . This heap be witness, and this pillar be witness. --Gen. xxxi. 51,
[1913 Webster]
One who is cognizant; a person who beholds, or otherwise has personal knowledge of, anything; as, an eyewitness; an earwitness. "Thyself art witness I am betrothed." --Shak. [1913 Webster] Upon my looking round, I was witness to appearances which filled me with melancholy and regret. --R. Hall. [1913 Webster]
(Law) (a) One who testifies in a cause, or gives evidence before a judicial tribunal; as, the witness in court agreed in all essential facts. (b) One who sees the execution of an instrument, and subscribes it for the purpose of confirming its authenticity by his testimony; one who witnesses a will, a deed, a marriage, or the like. [1913 Webster] Privileged witnesses. (Law) See under Privileged. With a witness, effectually; to a great degree; with great force, so as to leave some mark as a testimony. [Colloq.] [1913 Webster] This, I confess, is haste with a witness. --South. [1913 Webster]
Witness \Wit"ness\, v. t. [imp. & p. p. Witnessed; p. pr. & vb. n. Witnessing.] [1913 Webster]
To see or know by personal presence; to have direct cognizance of. [1913 Webster] This is but a faint sketch of the incalculable calamities and horrors we must expect, should we ever witness the triumphs of modern infidelity. --R. Hall. [1913 Webster] General Washington did not live to witness the restoration of peace. --Marshall. [1913 Webster]
To give testimony to; to testify to; to attest. [1913 Webster] Behold how many things they witness against thee. --Mark xv.
[1913 Webster]
(Law) To see the execution of, as an instrument, and subscribe it for the purpose of establishing its authenticity; as, to witness a bond or a deed. [1913 Webster]
Witness \Wit"ness\, v. i. To bear testimony; to give evidence; to testify. --Chaucer. [1913 Webster] The men of Belial witnessed against him. --1 Kings xxi.
[1913 Webster] The witnessing of the truth was then so generally attended with this event [martyrdom] that martyrdom now signifies not only to witness, but to witness to death. --South. [1913 Webster]

Word Net



1 someone who sees an event and reports what happened [syn: witnesser, informant]
2 a close observer; someone who looks at something (such as an exhibition of some kind); "the spectators applauded the performance"; "television viewers"; "sky watchers discovered a new star" [syn: spectator, viewer, watcher, looker]
3 testimony by word or deed to your religious faith
4 (law) a person who attests to the genuineness of a document or signature by adding their own signature [syn: attestant, attestor, attestator]
5 (law) a person who testifies under oath in a court of law


1 be a witness to
2 perceive or be contemporaneous with; "We found Republicans winning the offices"; "You'll see a lot of cheating in this school"; "I want to see results"; "The 1960 saw the rebellion of the younger generation against established traditions"; "I want to see results" [syn: find, see]

Moby Thesaurus

TV-viewer, accessory, acknowledge, admission, adviser, affidavit, affirm, affirmation, allegation, allege, announce, announcer, annunciator, appear, argue, assertion, asseverate, asseveration, assister, attend, attest, attestant, attestation, attestator, attester, authority, authorization, aver, averment, avouch, avouchment, avow, avowal, be at, be present at, bear witness, behold, beholder, bespeak, betoken, bill of health, bird-watcher, bystander, catch, catch sight of, certificate, certificate of proficiency, certification, certify, channel, clap eyes on, cojuror, come to, communicant, communicator, compurgation, compurgator, confirmation, credential, declaration, defendant, depone, deponent, depose, deposition, descry, diploma, discern, disclose, disclosure, discover, distinguish, do, drugstore cowboy, earwitness, endorse, enlightener, espy, evidence, examinant, examinate, examinee, expert witness, eyewitness, gaper, gazer, gazer-on, girl-watcher, give evidence, glimpse, go to, goggler, gossipmonger, grapevine, have in sight, informant, information center, information medium, informer, instrument in proof, interviewee, ken, kibitzer, lay eyes on, legal evidence, litigant, litigationist, litigator, look on, look upon, looker, looker-on, make out, monitor, mouthpiece, navicert, newsmonger, notarized statement, note, notice, notifier, observe, observer, ogler, onlooker, panel, parties litigant, party, passerby, perceive, perceiver, percipient, pick out, plaintiff, press, profession, proof, public relations officer, publisher, questionee, quizzee, radio, recognize, reporter, see, seer, sheepskin, show up, sidewalk superintendent, sight, sit in, source, spectator, spectatress, spectatrix, spokesman, spot, spy, statement, subject, subscribe, suitor, swear, swearer, sworn evidence, sworn statement, sworn testimony, take in, televiewer, television, television-viewer, teller, testament, testamur, testifier, testify, testimonial, testimonium, testimony, ticket, tipster, tout, turn up, twig, video-gazer, view, viewer, visa, vise, visit, vouch, voucher, warrant, warranty, watch, watcher, word






  1. Attestation of a fact or event.
    She can bear witness, since she was there at the time.
  2. One who has a personal knowledge of something.
    As a witness to the event, I can tell you that he really said that.
  3. Someone called to give evidence in a court.
    The witness for the prosecution did not seem very credible.


attestation of a fact or event
one who has a personal knowledge of something
someone called to give evidence in a court
  • Czech: svědek
  • Dutch: getuige
  • Finnish: todistaja
  • German: Zeuge , Zeugin i female
  • Hungarian: tanú
  • Japanese: 証人 (しょうにん, shōnin)
  • Russian: свидетель
  • Swedish: vittne


  1. To furnish proof of, to show.
    This certificate witnesses his presence on that day.
    • 1667: round he throws his baleful eyes / That witness'd huge affliction and dismay — John Milton, Paradise Lost, Book 1 ll. 56-7
  2. To take note of.
    Witness the lack of growth despite his efforts.
  3. To see, note, or gain knowledge of.
    He witnessed the accident.
  4. To preach at someone.
    "I don't really want to be actively harrassed (I mean witnessed to) (...)"



(transitive) to furnish proof of, to show
  • German: bezeugen
  • Hungarian: tanúsít
  • Russian: свидетельстовать ; подтверждать , подтвердить
  • Swedish: vittna om
(transitive) to take note of
  • Swedish: bevittna
(transitive) to see, note, or gain knowledge of
(intransitive; with the preposition to) to preach at someone
A witness is someone who has firsthand knowledge about a crime or dramatic event through their senses (e.g. seeing, hearing, smelling, touching) and can help certify important considerations to the crime or event. A witness who has seen the event firsthand is known as an eye-witness. Witnesses are often called before a court of law to testify in trials.
A subpoena commands a person to appear. In many jurisdictions it is compulsory to comply, to take an oath, and tell the truth, under penalty of perjury. It is used to compel the testimony of witnesses in a trial. Usually it can be issued by a judge or by the lawyer representing the plaintiff or the defendant in a civil trial or by the prosecutor or the defense attorney in a criminal proceeding.
Witness testimony is always presumed to be better than circumstantial evidence. Studies have shown that individual, separate witness testimony is often flawed and parts of it can be meaningless. This can occur because of a person's faulty observation and recollection, because of a person's bias, or because the witness is lying. If several witnesses witness a crime it is probative to look for similarities in their collective descriptions to substantiate the facts of an event, keeping in mind the contrasts of individual descriptions. One study involved an experiment in which subjects acted as jurors in a criminal case. Jurors heard a description of a robbery-murder, then a prosecution argument, then an argument for the defense. Some jurors heard only circumstantial evidence, others heard from a clerk who claimed to identify the defendant. In the first case, 18% percent found the defendant guilty, but in the second, 72% found the defendant guilty (Loftus 1988). Lineups, where the eyewitness picks out a suspect from a group of people in the police station, are often grossly suggestive, and give the false impression that the witness remembered the suspect. In another study, students watched a staged crime. An hour later they looked through photos. A week later they were asked to pick the suspect out of lineups. 8% of the people in the lineups were mistakenly identified as criminals. 20% of the innocent people whose photographs were included were mistakenly identified (University of Nebraska 1977). Weapon focus effects in which the presence of a weapon impairs memory for surrounding details is also an issue.
Another study looked at sixty-five cases of "erroneous criminal convictions of innocent people." In 45% of the cases, eyewitness mistakes were responsible (Borchard p. 367).
The formal study of eyewitness memory is usually undertaken within the broader category of cognitive processes. Cognitive processes refer to all the different ways in which we make sense of the world around us. We do this by employing the mental skills at our disposal such as thinking, perception, memory, awareness, reasoning and judgment.
Although cognitive processes can only be inferred and cannot be seen directly, they all have very important practical implications within a legal context.
If one were to accept that the way we think, perceive, reason and judge is not always perfect, then it becomes easier to understand why cognitive processes and the factors influencing these processes are studied by psychologists in matters of law; not least because of the grave implications that this imperfection can have within the criminal justice system.
The study of witness memory has dominated this realm of investigation and for a very good reason because as Huff and Rattner note: the single most important factor contributing to wrongful conviction is eyewitness misidentification.
A witness who specializes in an area of study relevant to the crime is called an expert witness. Scientists and doctors are often called to give expert witness testimony.

Other definitions

  • In the Judeo-Christian religious context, the concept of a forensic witness occurs widely in the Old Testament and the New Testament, denoted in the Greek texts by the term μαρτυς, martyr (see e.g. Alison A. Trites, The New Testament Concept of Witness, ISBN 9780521609340).
  • In another sense there are witnesses of unusual phenomena such as mystic-religious-spiritual, paranormal, chamanic and UFO phenomena. In such experiences those witnesses/subjects are not only occular witnesses but in a broad sense "perceptors" and sometimes also considered subjects suffering hallucinations (schizophrenia sufferer), illusions and other psychopathological and perceptual definitions but not necessarily un-true or un-real unless the testimony seems to be non-logical, non-coherent or non-real or non-sense.
  • A certain number of witnesses are legally required to be present at weddings and certain other official events, and may have to sign a register as evidence of the event having taken place. Many other legal documents require witnesses to signatures; the witness does not need to read the document, but does need to see it being signed. The witness should not be party to the transaction, so in the case of wills, the witness should not be one of the beneficiaries.
  • In another sense witnesses also help out the scientific community, such as persons who observe natural disasters and other phenomenon. Witnesses and their testimony in these events are extremely valuable, as scientists and meteorologists rarely have the needed equipment to record these events from an up-close-and-personal perspective. In extreme cases, like the study of extraterrestrials and unidentified flying objects, witness testimony may be the only source of information; consequently, said events tend to be met with speculation and doubt.
witness in Czech: Svědek
witness in German: Zeuge
witness in Spanish: Testigo
witness in French: Témoin
witness in Friulian: Testemoni
witness in Indonesian: Saksi
witness in Latin: Testis
witness in Dutch: Getuige
witness in Japanese: 証人
witness in Norwegian: Vitne
witness in Polish: Świadek
witness in Portuguese: Testemunho (direito)
witness in Russian: Свидетель
witness in Simple English: Witness
witness in Slovak: Svedok
witness in Swedish: Vittne
Privacy Policy, About Us, Terms and Conditions, Contact Us
Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2
Material from Wikipedia, Wiktionary, Dict
Valid HTML 4.01 Strict, Valid CSS Level 2.1