in·​ef·​fa·​ble | \ (ˌ)i-ˈne-fə-bəl How to pronounce ineffable (audio) \

Definition of ineffable

1a : incapable of being expressed in words : indescribable ineffable joy
b : unspeakable ineffable disgust
2 : not to be uttered : taboo the ineffable name of Jehovah

Keep scrolling for more

Other Words from ineffable

ineffability \ (ˌ)i-​ˌne-​fə-​ˈbi-​lə-​tē How to pronounce ineffability (audio) \ noun
ineffableness \ (ˌ)i-​ˈne-​fə-​bəl-​nəs How to pronounce ineffableness (audio) \ noun
ineffably \ (ˌ)i-​ˈne-​fə-​blē How to pronounce ineffably (audio) \ adverb

Breaking Down the Roots of Ineffable

Every tone was a testimony against slavery, and a prayer to God for deliverance from chains. The hearing of those wild notes always depressed my spirit, and filled me with ineffable sadness, wrote Frederick Douglass in his autobiography. Reading Douglass's words, it's easy to see that ineffable means "indescribable" or "unspeakable." And when we break down the word to its Latin roots, it's easy to see how those meanings came about. "Ineffable" comes from "ineffabilis," which joins the prefix in-, meaning "not," with the adjective effabilis, meaning "capable of being expressed." "Effabilis" comes from "effari" ("to speak out"), which in turn comes from ex- and fari ("to speak").

Examples of ineffable in a Sentence

an ineffable beauty descends upon the canyon as the sun begins to set
Recent Examples on the Web Grace was able to capture this ineffable 'worldly innocence' that this character embodies in a way that never felt self-conscious — and that is a tall order, especially for your first big acting job. Morgan Baila,, "Grace VanderWaal Is Not Your Manic Pixie Dream Girl," 10 Mar. 2020 And yet something ineffable and meaningful remains, an unquenchable spirit, still in motion, drifting upward toward heaven, or the open universe, or the stars. Washington Post, "At the Kennedy Center, moments of sunlight are glorious but fleeting in ‘The Day’," 7 Dec. 2019 Mavi’s music — like all music — is made from intangible mystery-stuff, untouchable and ineffable. Washington Post, "Mavi is rapping his way toward the center of human consciousness," 17 Jan. 2020 Growth is not without its pains, but 2012 research by CityLab shows that the dense urban core of Philadelphia is increasing not just in sheer numbers but also in an ineffable and transcendent quality: happiness. Dina Litovsky, National Geographic, "Here’s why you’ll fall in love with Philadelphia," 14 Dec. 2019 That’s partly because Armstrong perceives the God of Scripture not as a white-bearded old man on a cloud but as an ineffable, indescribable, unknowable transcendence. Nicholas Kristof, New York Times, "What Is the Meaning of Sacred Texts?," 11 Nov. 2019 The stories of Youngblood and Rena, and Becker and his ex-con son Booster (Francois Battiste) dominate the evening, but the success of the play depends on our grasping an ineffable, collective dependency among the cabdrivers. Peter Marks, Washington Post, "It’s a hard-knock life, but often a funny one, in August Wilson’s ‘Jitney’ at Arena.," 21 Sep. 2019 There's this ineffable sense of stiffness at lower frame rates that, for certain types of games, is a detriment. Wired, "The New Port of Halo: Reach Is a Renaissance for the Series," 8 Dec. 2019 Bonny Doon Vineyard Le Cigare Volant 2018 ($20, 13.5%) tastes like a modern California Grenache, light in weight, crunchy in flavor, with an ineffable sense of exuberance. Esther Mobley,, "Randall Grahm’s new Cigare Volant wines are more approachable, more youthful and cheaper," 24 Oct. 2019

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

See More

First Known Use of ineffable

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

History and Etymology for ineffable

Middle English, from Latin ineffabilis, from in- + effabilis capable of being expressed, from effari to speak out, from ex- + fari to speak — more at ban entry 1

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about ineffable

Time Traveler for ineffable

Time Traveler

The first known use of ineffable was in the 14th century

See more words from the same century

Listen to Our Podcast about ineffable

Statistics for ineffable

Last Updated

11 May 2020

Cite this Entry

“Ineffable.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 5 Jul. 2020.

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for ineffable


How to pronounce ineffable (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of ineffable

formal : too great, powerful, beautiful, etc., to be described or expressed

Keep scrolling for more

Comments on ineffable

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


See Definitions and Examples »

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

A More Exception(al) Quiz

  • hot dog  hot dog  hot dog  hot dog cat
  • Which of the following words is not a synonym for ‘a young person’?
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?

Dictionary Devil

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

Love words? Need even more definitions?

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