el·​e·​gy ˈe-lə-jē How to pronounce elegy (audio)
plural elegies
: a poem in elegiac couplets
: a song or poem expressing sorrow or lamentation especially for one who is dead
: something (such as a speech) resembling such a song or poem
: a pensive or reflective poem that is usually nostalgic or melancholy
: a short pensive musical composition

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Elegy vs. Eulogy

Both elegy and eulogy may be used about writing or speech in remembrance of a person who has passed away, and this semantic overlap creates the potential for confusion. Elegy (which may be traced to the Greek word elegos, “song of mourning”) commonly refers to a song or poem lamenting one who is dead; the word may also refer somewhat figuratively to a nostalgic poem, or to a kind of musical composition. While eulogy is also commonly found referring to words about the deceased, its basic meaning, both in English and in the Greek language from which it was borrowed, is “praise.” Formed from the Greek roots eu “good” and logos “speech,” a eulogy is an encomium given for one who is either living or dead. If you are praising your partner’s unsurpassed beauty or commending the virtues of the deceased at a funeral, you are delivering a eulogy; if you are composing a lamenting reminiscence about a person who has long since passed, you are writing an elegy.

Examples of elegy in a Sentence

“O Captain! My Captain!” is Walt Whitman's elegy on the death of President Lincoln
Recent Examples on the Web His vibrato was steady, with a lilting note of elegy. Geoffrey Mak, The New Yorker, 14 Oct. 2023 In elegy, too, Simonides performed his feats of commemoration. A.e. Stallings, The New York Review of Books, 17 Aug. 2023 The poems are elegiac, and once again her followers may read this as personal elegy — which is only hinted at. Carol Muske-Dukes, Washington Post, 2 Sep. 2023 The episode ends on a lonely airplane tarmac, with a solo piano playing another of Britell’s themes and then a more impassioned elegy for organ and orchestra. Tim Greiving, Los Angeles Times, 16 Aug. 2023 As elegy—or, perhaps, requiem—Anthology Film Archives, an East Village paradise of experimental and avant-garde cinema for the past 52 years, presents Shopping Worlds, a series of films dissecting the social and cultural phenomenon of the mall. Sarah Chekfa, Vogue, 9 Aug. 2023 Alaska news is full of climate elegies now—every one linked to wrenching changes caused by burning fossil fuels. WIRED, 15 July 2023 Alaska news is full of climate elegies now — every one linked to wrenching changes caused by burning fossil fuels. Julia O'Malley, Anchorage Daily News, 9 July 2023 But Danyel Smith’s elegy delivers something altogether different. Longreads, 11 Aug. 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'elegy.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


Latin elegia poem in elegiac couplets, from Greek elegeia, elegeion, from elegos song of mourning

First Known Use

1501, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of elegy was in 1501

Dictionary Entries Near elegy

Cite this Entry

“Elegy.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/elegy. Accessed 10 Dec. 2023.

Kids Definition


el·​e·​gy ˈel-ə-jē How to pronounce elegy (audio)
plural elegies
: a poem or song expressing sorrow especially for one who is dead

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