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

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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

No, their instrument has to resound with some other, ineffable qualities. Peter Marks, Washington Post, "An aura of authority," 24 June 2019 But the researchers also found something else in the data: Many of the countries in the temperate Goldilocks zone, which already tended to be richer, had even seemed to gain some slight ineffable economic benefit from the warming. Alejandra Borunda, National Geographic, "Inequality is decreasing between countries—but climate change is slowing progress," 22 Apr. 2019 One of the themes that recurs in her poetry is longing — not a longing that is negative or envious, just a reach toward something ineffable in the human heart., "Social justice, longing reflected in the spare poems of Davyne Verstandig," 20 June 2019 And how to cook this complex and ineffable nostalgia into dinner? Tamar Adler, Vogue, "Is Seaweed the Perfect Food?," 15 Feb. 2019 Clearly, something ineffable has been lost in the shopping experience—and not only for me—judging from the revival and broadened scope of in-store dining. Alex Witchel, Town & Country, "The Best Department Stores Are All Opening Restaurants," 25 Feb. 2019 But if a building has the ineffable rightness of form of a great piece of sculpture, an addition is normally fatal. ... Michael J. Lewis, WSJ, "An Expansion of Subtle Sensibility," 5 Feb. 2019 By stirring us so powerfully, birds bring us up against the ineffable in a telling, pathos-laden way. Ben Downing, WSJ, "‘As Kingfishers Catch Fire’ Review: Flights of Fancy," 16 Nov. 2018 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

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

7 Jul 2019

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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

formal : 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).


appealing forcibly to the mind or reason

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