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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 barrenness
Historical Examples
  • What was it that produced this barrenness, this intellectual degradation in Constantinople?

  • Directly ahead was a land of desolation, radiant in its barrenness.

    Two Thousand Miles Below Charles Willard Diffin
  • To the uninitiated a clod of dry earth is the most unpromising of objects—it is cousin to the stone, and the type of barrenness.

    Chapters in Rural Progress Kenyon L. Butterfield
  • We are struck with the aspect of barrenness caused by the absence of vegetation.

    Aztec Land Maturin M. Ballou
  • Savage wildness and barrenness reign in its lofty mountain chains as much as softer beauty does in the "huertas" and "vegas."

    Spain Wentworth Webster
  • Then upon the earth did there come dearth and drought and barrenness.

    A Book of Myths Jean Lang
  • The past may well look with pity at the poverty of our civilisation; the future will laugh at the barrenness of our art.

    The Book of Tea Kakuzo Okakura
  • Whatever may be our experience of failure and barrenness, He is never defeated.

    The Calvary Road Roy Hession
  • Every day the atmosphere of a house becomes unbearable, so every day I go out to the sand and barrenness.

  • My love of good is damned to barrenness; it may, and let it be!

British Dictionary definitions for barrenness


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 barrenness

late 14c., literal; mid-14c., figurative (of spiritual emptiness), from barren + -ness.



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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barrenness 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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barrenness 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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