Middle English bireven, from Old English bereafian "to deprive of, take away by violence, seize, rob," from be- + reafian "rob, plunder," from Proto-Germanic *raubōjanan, from PIE *runp- "to break" (see corrupt (adj.)). A common Germanic formation (compare Old Frisian biravia "despoil, rob, deprive (someone of something)," Old Saxon biroban, Dutch berooven, Old High German biroubon, German berauben, Gothic biraubon).
Since mid-17c., mostly in reference to life, hope, loved ones, and other immaterial possessions. Past tense forms bereaved and bereft have co-existed since 14c., now slightly differentiated in meaning, the former applied to loss of loved ones, the latter to circumstances.
updated on August 04, 2019