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

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 If so, the variations have been endless, the themes ineffable. Mark Rozzo, Vanities, "Ed Ruscha Still Has Plenty More to Say About America," 30 May 2018 Some perceive this as undermining those ineffable elements that make wine different from, say, toothpaste. Bruce Schoenfeld, WIRED, "Your Next Glass of Wine Might Be a Fake—and You'll Love It," 30 May 2018 To illustrate Dundy’s story, Wolfe was photographed by Irving Penn, who captured the writer’s ineffable style with his lepidopterist’s eye. Hamish Bowles, Vogue, "Tom Wolfe: Remembering the Iconic Style of “The Man in the White Suit”," 15 May 2018 The actual taste was thoroughly barnyardy but approachable, balancing that ineffable chicken coopiness with a more familiar nutty quality. Molly Fitzpatrick, Bon Appetit, "The Hunt for the Stinkiest Cheese, Or, How I Tested the Bonds of Friendship," 26 Apr. 2018 Yet, the three duets (for André/Wei Wang, Sarah Van Patten/Luke Ingram, Gabriela Gonzalez/Ulrik Birkkjaer) miss a distinctive tone, even from Van Patten, the company’s mistress of the ineffable. Allan Ulrich, San Francisco Chronicle, "Almost boundless creativity as SF Ballet’s new-works festival opens," 22 Apr. 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

4 Aug 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).


occurring twice a year or every two years

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