el·​e·​gy | \ ˈe-lə-jē How to pronounce elegy (audio) \
plural elegies

Definition of elegy

1 : a poem in elegiac couplets
2a : a song or poem expressing sorrow or lamentation especially for one who is dead
b : something (such as a speech) resembling such a song or poem
3a : a pensive or reflective poem that is usually nostalgic or melancholy
b : a short pensive musical composition

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 Hugh's adaptation is an elegy on love and perseverance, mostly told through the lens of resilient women. Jessica Wang, EW.com, 25 Mar. 2022 Visual flourishes and a Fellini-esque menagerie of larger-than-life characters combine in an elegy to the city and the director's youth -- one defined by a tragedy that set Sorrentino on his path. Thomas Page, CNN, 24 Mar. 2022 As a video clip to accompany an elegy, the utterance would almost be too perfect. Laura King, Los Angeles Times, 16 Mar. 2022 For a band whose polyrhythms and headiness really do require musicians to have and use math skills, Fripp’s elegy comes close enough to feeling like love. Chris Willman, Variety, 15 Mar. 2022 Maggie Gyllenhaal's directorial debut, The Lost Daughter, is an elegy on maternal ambivalence. Jessica Wang, EW.com, 7 Feb. 2022 Her essay is also an elegy for the natural world and our appreciation of it. Longreads, 4 Jan. 2022 But there’s also a breathtaking elegy to the grove, which was eventually clear-cut: a majestic chandelier of neon green paracord from which dangle still-fragrant woodchip remains. Lori Waxman, chicagotribune.com, 18 Dec. 2021 The elegy, poetry’s traditional response to death, is a genre for mourning, usually in the first-person singular. Kamran Javadizadeh, The New Yorker, 8 Nov. 2021 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'elegy.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

First Known Use of elegy

1501, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for elegy

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

Learn More About elegy

Dictionary Entries Near elegy




See More Nearby Entries 

Statistics for elegy

Last Updated

19 Apr 2022

Cite this Entry

“Elegy.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/elegy. Accessed 26 May. 2022.

Style: MLA
MLACheck Mark Icon ChicagoCheck Mark Icon APACheck Mark Icon Merriam-WebsterCheck Mark Icon

More from Merriam-Webster on elegy

Nglish: Translation of elegy for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of elegy for Arabic Speakers

Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about elegy


Test Your Vocabulary

Great Words for Scrabble

  • scrabble tiles that read scrabble quiz
  • Which of the following Q-without-U words means the number five in cards or dice?
How Strong Is Your Vocabulary?

Test your vocabulary with our 10-question quiz!

Universal Daily Crossword

A daily challenge for crossword fanatics.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!