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adjective \ˈvān\

Simple Definition of vain

  • : too proud of your own appearance, abilities, achievements, etc.

  • : having no success : not producing a desired result

Full Definition of vain

  1. 1 :  having no real value :  idle, worthless <vain pretensions>

  2. 2 :  marked by futility or ineffectualness :  unsuccessful, useless <vain efforts to escape>

  3. 3 archaic :  foolish, silly

  4. 4 :  having or showing undue or excessive pride in one's appearance or achievements :  conceited

vain·ly adverb
vain·ness play \ˈvān-nəs\ noun
in vain
  1. 1 :  to no end :  without success or result <her efforts were in vain>

  2. 2 :  in an irreverent or blasphemous manner <you shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain — Deuteronomy 5:11 (Revised Standard Version)>

Examples of vain

  1. For a half a century, scholars have searched in vain for the source of the jade that the early civilizations of the Americas prized above all else and fashioned into precious objects of worship, trade and adornment. —William J. Broad, New York Times, 22 May 2002

  2. … the miseries of people's lives ought not to be exploited ad libitum in the furtherance of our profits or our careers, and in the vain conviction that we understand everything. —Richard Taruskin, New Republic, 24 Dec. 2001

  3. It is in vain to say human beings ought to be satisfied with tranquillity: they must have action; and they will make it if they cannot find it. —Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre, 1847

  4. Vanity and pride are different things, though the words are often used synonymously. A person may be proud without being vain. Pride relates more to our opinion of ourselves, vanity to what we would have others think of us. —Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice, 1813

  5. Where words are scarce, they are seldom spent in vain … —William Shakespeare, King Richard the Second, 1596

  6. She is very vain about her appearance.

  7. He is the vainest man I know.

  8. A vain effort to quell the public's fears only made matters worse.

  9. Volunteers searched the area in the vain hope of finding clues.

Origin of vain

Middle English, from Anglo-French, empty, futile, from Latin vanus — more at wane

First Known Use: 14th century

Synonym Discussion of vain

vain, nugatory, otiose, idle, empty, hollow mean being without worth or significance. vain implies either absolute or relative absence of value <vain promises>. nugatory suggests triviality or insignificance <a monarch with nugatory powers>. otiose suggests that something serves no purpose and is either an encumbrance or a superfluity <a film without a single otiose scene>. idle suggests being incapable of worthwhile use or effect <idle speculations>. empty and hollow suggest a deceiving lack of real substance or soundness or genuineness <an empty attempt at reconciliation> <a hollow victory>.futile, vain, fruitless mean producing no result. futile may connote completeness of failure or unwisdom of undertaking <resistance had proved so futile that surrender was the only choice left>. vain usually implies simple failure to achieve a desired result <a vain attempt to get the car started>. fruitless comes close to vain but often suggests long and arduous effort or severe disappointment <fruitless efforts to obtain a lasting peace>.

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February 13, 2016

a trying or distressing experience

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