in·​ef·​fa·​ble | \ (ˌ)i-ˈne-fə-bəl \

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

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Other Words from ineffable

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

That ineffable quality that drew him to her in the first place? Kayleigh Roberts, Marie Claire, "Sophie Turner Reacts Adorably to Joe Jonas Secretly Instagramming Her," 25 Nov. 2018 What is known is that the ineffable magic that Ralph Lauren has created, and its presence in our collective consciousness, make his successes over the past five decades the ultimate achievement of American brand-making for, like, well, ever. Harper's BAZAAR, "American Dream: Ralph Lauren Celebrates 50 Years," 6 Sep. 2018 The sloth, about the size of a large sheepdog, hung upside down and stared at me with an expression of ineffable sadness on its furry face. New York Times, "Don’t Try to Catch a Komodo Dragon — Unless You’re David Attenborough," 29 May 2018 And while there is much to admire about the video (the Carter's ineffable cool, the cinematic cinematography, of course, the song itself), perhaps most poignant is the symbolism. Elise Taylor, Vogue, "You Can Now Visit All the Paintings of “Apeshit” in a Beyoncé and Jay-Z Inspired Tour of the Louvre Museum," 6 July 2018 What are those ineffable x-factors that go into creating a desire so overwhelming that notseeing a movie is tantamount to not living one's best life? Ann Hornaday,, "What defines a 'must-see' movie? And does 'Infinity War' make the cut?," 13 May 2018 Still, there's a certain ineffable quality to the way McCaw defends and hustles that lifts a team, a frenetic energy that can help turn the tide or sustain a run. Rob Mahoney,, "The Best Players Left in NBA Free Agency," 9 July 2018 But as these two actresses, Ms. Markey and Emily Davis, go on to portray a succession of distinct individuals, the will to be one with the other keeps pulling at them, like some ineffable but unavoidable force of gravity. Ben Brantley, New York Times, "Review: In the Relationships in ‘Singlet,’ One and One Make One," 20 May 2018 There's also an ineffable quality to the risk in all this. Andrew Sharp,, "The Risks and Rewards of LeBron James on the Lakers," 2 July 2018

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.

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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

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Statistics for ineffable

Last Updated

22 Dec 2018

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Time Traveler for ineffable

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

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English Language Learners Definition of ineffable

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

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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).


tremendous in size, volume, or degree

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