Quantcast
Merriam-Webster Logo
  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
  • Scrabble
  • Spanish Central
  • Learner's Dictionary

vain

play
adjective \ˈvān\

Simple Definition of vain

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

  • : having no success : not producing a desired result

Source: Merriam-Webster's Learner's Dictionary

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

vainly adverb
vainness 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 in a sentence

  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>.


VAIN Defined for Kids

vain

play
adjective \ˈvān\

Definition of vain for Students

vainervainest

  1. 1 :  having no success <He made a vain effort to escape.>

  2. 2 :  having or showing the attitude of a person who thinks too highly of his or her looks or abilities

vainly adverb <I looked at the others, searching vainly for a sympathetic face. — Gail Carson Levine, Ella Enchanted>
in vain
  1. 1 :  without success <I searched in vain for my key.>

  2. 2 :  in an unholy way



Headscratcher for vain

Vain, vane, and vein sound the same but have different spellings and meanings. Someone who is vain is conceited. A vane, as in weather vane, is a device that shows which direction the wind is blowing. A vein is a small tube in the body that carries blood to the heart.



Seen and Heard

What made you want to look up vain? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).

WORD OF THE DAY

tending to dismiss important matters

Get Word of the Day daily email!

WORD GAMES

Take a 3-minute break and test your skills!

alt-5746713d76276

Which of these is a synonym of nonplus?

reduce soothe disapprove perplex
Name That Thing

Test your visual vocabulary with our 10-question challenge!

TAKE THE QUIZ
SCRABBLE® Sprint

Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.

TAKE THE QUIZ