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[bar-uh n] /ˈbær ən/
not producing or incapable of producing offspring; sterile:
a barren woman.
unproductive; unfruitful:
barren land.
without capacity to interest or attract:
a barren period in American architecture.
mentally unproductive; dull; stupid.
not producing results; fruitless:
a barren effort.
destitute; bereft; lacking (usually followed by of):
barren of tender feelings.
Usually, barrens. level or slightly rolling land, usually with a sandy soil and few trees, and relatively infertile.
Origin of barren
1200-50; Middle English bareyn(e), barayn(e) < Anglo-French barai(gn)e, Old French brahaigne (French bréhaigne (of animals) sterile), akin to Spanish breña scrubby, uncultivated ground, Upper Italian barena land along a lagoon covered by high water; apparently < Celtic, compare Welsh braenar, Irish branar fallow land, but derivational details unclear
Related forms
barrenly, adverb
barrenness, noun
unbarren, adjective
unbarrenly, adverb
unbarrenness, noun
Can be confused
barren, baron, baronet.
1. childless, unprolific, infertile. 2. infertile, depleted, waste. See bare1 . 5. ineffectual, ineffective.
1–6. fertile. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the Web for barren
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • The ridge where Roger now found himself was high and barren.

    The Forbidden Trail Honor Willsie
  • They are barren, till the imagination has tenanted them with possibilities of danger and dismay.

    Malbone Thomas Wentworth Higginson
  • Now would I give a thousand furlongs of sea for an acre of barren ground.

    Familiar Quotations John Bartlett
  • But she did not allow herself to fall into the idleness of barren speculation.

    The Secret Agent Joseph Conrad
  • Here were no barren hill-crests with a hundred weatherworn facets.

    The Heart of Unaga Ridgwell Cullum
British Dictionary definitions for barren


incapable of producing offspring, seed, or fruit; sterile: a barren tree
unable to support the growth of crops, etc; unproductive; bare: barren land
lacking in stimulation or ideas; dull: a rather barren play
not producing worthwhile results; unprofitable: a barren period in a writer's life
(foll by of) totally lacking (in); devoid (of): his speech was barren of wit
(of rock strata) having no fossils
Derived Forms
barrenly, adverb
barrenness, noun
Word Origin
C13: from Old French brahain, of uncertain origin
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for barren

c.1200, from Old French baraigne, baraing "sterile, barren" (12c.), perhaps originally brahain, of obscure derivation, perhaps from a Germanic language. In England, originally used of women, of land in France. Of land in English from late 14c. As a noun, mid-13c., "a barren woman;" later of land.

BARRENS. Elevated lands, or plains upon which grow small trees, but never timber. [Bartlett, "Dictionary of Americanisms," 1848]

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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barren in Medicine

barren bar·ren (bār'ən)

  1. Not producing offspring.

  2. Incapable of producing offspring.

The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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barren in the Bible

For a woman to be barren was accounted a severe punishment among the Jews (Gen. 16:2; 30:1-23; 1 Sam. 1:6, 27; Isa. 47:9; 49:21; Luke 1:25). Instances of barrenness are noticed (Gen. 11:30; 25:21; 29:31; Judg. 13:2, 3; Luke 1:7, 36).

Easton's 1897 Bible Dictionary
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