Word of the Day


Liz Potter
Written by Liz Potter


to make a baby stop taking its mother’s milk and start to eat solid food

View the full definition in the Macmillan Dictionary.

Origin and usage

The verb to wean comes from Old English ‘wenian’ meaning to accustom. It has been used in English for over 1000 years.


To wean a baby is to gradually accustom it to taking solid food in addition to, and then instead of its mother’s milk. The use of the verb ‘make’ in the definition suggests an element of compulsion that is not necessarily present in the process; babies can be allowed to wean themselves by being offered food rather than having it fed to them. Wean has a couple of phrasal verbs attached to it. If someone is weaned on something, it has been part of their life since their earliest days so that they are completely accustomed to it. The example for this refers to the child of a musician being weaned on classical music. To wean someone off or from something is to gradually make them stop depending on it and the verb is used especially with reference to things that are bad or potentially harmful, typically drugs or strong medication. We also talk about people being weaned off dependency or reliance on someone or something, or weaning themselves off it. Although both the root verb and the phrasal verbs are usually described as transitive, there is quite a bit of evidence of them being used intransitively.


Europe certainly has to wean itself off dependency on importing fuels, especially fossil fuels, from third countries.
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To begin with, Mathilda had to be weaned off her current medications.
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Related words

coax, persuade, prevail on, inveigle

Browse related words in the Macmillan Thesaurus.

About the author

Liz Potter

Liz Potter

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