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


verb \ˈwāv\

Simple Definition of wave

  • : to move your hand or something held in your hand usually in a repeated motion in order to signal or greet someone

  • : to float, shake, or move back and forth because of wind

  • : to move (something) back and forth

Full Definition of wave


  1. intransitive verb
  2. 1 :  to motion with the hands or with something held in them in signal or salute

  3. 2 :  to float, play, or shake in an air current :  move loosely to and fro :  flutter <flags waving in the breeze>

  4. 3 of water :  to move in waves :  heave

  5. 4 :  to become moved or brandished to and fro <signs waved in the crowd>

  6. 5 :  to move before the wind with a wavelike motion <field of waving grain>

  7. 6 :  to follow a curving line or take a wavy form :  undulate

  8. transitive verb
  9. 1 :  to swing (something) back and forth or up and down

  10. 2 :  to impart a curving or undulating shape to <waved her hair>

  11. 3 a :  to motion to (someone) to go in an indicated direction or to stop :  signal <waved down a passing car> b :  to gesture with (the hand or an object) in greeting or farewell or in homage c :  to dismiss or put out of mind :  disregard —usually used with aside or off d :  to convey by waving <waved farewell>

  12. 4 :  brandish, flourish <waved a pistol menacingly>

Examples of wave

  1. We waved to our friends through the window.

  2. She was waving in the direction of the bridge.

  3. Flags were waving in the breeze.

  4. The magician waved his magic wand.

  5. The leader of the parade waved a flag.

  6. It was so hot that we were all waving our hands in front of our faces to cool off.

Origin of wave

Middle English, from Old English wafian to wave with the hands; akin to Old English wæfan to clothe and perhaps to Old English wefan to weave

First Known Use: before 12th century

Synonym Discussion of wave

swing, wave, flourish, brandish, thrash mean to wield or cause to move to and fro or up and down. swing implies regular or uniform movement <swing the rope back and forth>. wave usually implies smooth or continuous motion <waving the flag>. flourish suggests vigorous, ostentatious, graceful movement <flourished the winning lottery ticket>. brandish implies threatening or menacing motion <brandishing a knife>. thrash suggests vigorous, abrupt, violent movement <an infant thrashing his arms about>.

swing, sway, oscillate, vibrate, fluctuate, waver, undulate mean to move from one direction to its opposite. swing implies a movement of something attached at one end or one side <the door suddenly swung open>. sway implies a slow swinging or teetering movement <trees swaying in the breeze>. oscillate stresses a usually regular alternation of direction <an oscillating fan>. vibrate suggests the rapid oscillation of an elastic body under stress or impact <the vibrating strings of a piano>. fluctuate suggests constant irregular changes of level, intensity, or value <fluctuating interest rates>. waver stresses irregular motion suggestive of reeling or tottering <the exhausted runner wavered before collapsing>. undulate suggests a gentle wavelike motion <an undulating sea of grass>.




Simple Definition of wave

  • : an area of moving water that is raised above the main surface of an ocean, a lake, etc.

  • : something that has the shape or movement of a wave

  • : a usually repeated movement of your hand or of something held in your hand especially as a signal or greeting

Full Definition of wave

  1. 1 a :  a moving ridge or swell on the surface of a liquid (as of the sea) b :  open water

  2. 2 a :  a shape or outline having successive curves b :  a waviness of the hair c :  an undulating line or streak or a pattern formed by such lines

  3. 3 :  something that swells and dies away: as a :  a surge of sensation or emotion <a wave of anger swept over her> b :  a movement sweeping large numbers in a common direction <waves of protest> c :  a peak or climax of activity <a wave of buying>

  4. 4 :  a sweep of hand or arm or of some object held in the hand used as a signal or greeting

  5. 5 :  a rolling or undulatory movement or one of a series of such movements passing along a surface or through the air

  6. 6 :  a movement like that of an ocean wave: as a :  a surging movement of a group <a big new wave of women politicians> b :  one of a succession of influxes of people migrating into a region c (1) :  a moving group of animals of one kind (2) :  a sudden rapid increase in a population d :  a line of attacking or advancing troops or airplanes e :  a display of people in a large crowd (as at a sports event) successively rising, lifting their arms overhead, and quickly sitting so as to form a swell moving through the crowd

  7. 7 a :  a disturbance or variation that transfers energy progressively from point to point in a medium and that may take the form of an elastic deformation or of a variation of pressure, electric or magnetic intensity, electric potential, or temperature b :  one complete cycle of such a disturbance

  8. 8 :  a marked change in temperature :  a period of hot or cold weather

  9. 9 :  an undulating or jagged line constituting a graphic representation of an action

wave·less play \ˈwāv-ləs\ adjective
wave·less·ly adverb
wave·like play \-ˌlīk\ adjective

Examples of wave

  1. The waves crashed onto the rocks.

  2. She has a wave in her hair.

  3. Waves of warm air washed over us.

  4. We got a wave from the Queen.

  5. The rabbit disappeared with a wave of the magician's wand.


First Known Use of wave



noun \ˈwāv\

Definition of Wave

  1. :  a member of the women's component of the United States Navy formed during World War II and discontinued in the 1970s

Origin of wave

Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service

First Known Use: 1942

Medical Dictionary


noun \ˈwāv\

Medical Definition of wave

  1. 1a:  a disturbance or variation that transfers energy progressively from point to point in a medium and that may take the form of an elastic deformation or of a variation of pressure, electrical or magnetic intensity, electrical potential, or temperatureb:  one complete cycle of such a disturbance

  2. 2:  an undulating or jagged line constituting a graphic representation of an action <an electroencephalographic wave>

Seen and Heard

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


February 10, 2016

to put in good humor

Get Word of the Day daily email!


Take a 3-minute break and test your skills!


Which of the following refers to thin, bending ice, or to the act of running over such ice?

kittly-benders duvet spindrift pince-nez
Name That Thing

10 quick questions: hear them, spell them, and see how your skills compare to the crowd.


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