in·​ef·​fa·​ble (ˌ)i-ˈne-fə-bəl How to pronounce ineffable (audio)
: incapable of being expressed in words : indescribable
ineffable joy
: unspeakable
ineffable disgust
: not to be uttered : taboo
the ineffable name of Jehovah
ineffability noun
ineffableness noun
ineffably adverb

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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 clear that ineffable means "indescribable" or "unspeakable." And when we break the word down to its Latin roots, we see how those meanings came about. Ineffable comes from ineffābilis, which joins the prefix in-, meaning "not," with the adjective effābilis, meaning "capable of being expressed." Effābilis comes from effārī, "to speak out," which in turn comes from ex- and fārī, meaning “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 Maybe there is something ineffable about organic consciousness that cannot be completely captured in simulation—maybe true awareness requires meat brains in meat bodies. Paul Sutter, Ars Technica, 31 Jan. 2024 The orange snack first entered the current fashion consciousness in the January issue of Vogue, where one Florence Pugh wore a decadent butter yellow Loewe dress while holding a singular Cheeto in her left hand, with the same ineffable cool as Kate Moss used to nonchalantly hold a cigarette. Laia Garcia-Furtado, Vogue, 29 Nov. 2023 Olivia sees the cracks and contradictions in herself and others and makes the ineffable understandable and transformational for her listeners. Evan Minsker, Pitchfork, 3 Dec. 2023 Rebel Moon resembles numerous, familiar sci-fi adventure tales but very few have had comparable energy or imagination, or displayed such an ineffable cinematic knack. Armond White, National Review, 20 Dec. 2023 Silly comedies about adolescent heartbreak were fine, but anything more sober, where the estrangement seemed to suggest something ineffable about the relationship, was out of the question. Hazlitt, 16 Nov. 2023 Solitary and self-sufficient, the Woodcutter is possessed of the ineffable quality — a kind of projectability — that can make puppets profound and delicate vessels for embodying human vulnerability. Laura Collins-Hughes, New York Times, 8 Nov. 2023 The kind of ineffable beauty of something extremely well expressed. David Marchese David Marchese Photograph By Mamadi Doumbouya, New York Times, 10 Nov. 2023 Still, that ineffable fascination with what lay beyond the body, whether it was rooted in spiritualism or magic, continued to press upon him. Seth Combs, San Diego Union-Tribune, 5 Nov. 2023 See More

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

Word History


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

First Known Use

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

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


Dictionary Entries Near ineffable

Cite this Entry

“Ineffable.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 23 Feb. 2024.

Kids Definition


in·​ef·​fa·​ble (ˈ)in-ˈef-ə-bəl How to pronounce ineffable (audio)
: impossible to express : inexpressible
ineffable joy
ineffability noun
ineffably adverb

More from Merriam-Webster on ineffable

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