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

Other Words from ineffable

ineffability \ (ˌ)i-​ˌne-​fə-​ˈbi-​lə-​tē How to pronounce ineffable (audio) \ noun
ineffableness \ (ˌ)i-​ˈne-​fə-​bəl-​nəs How to pronounce ineffable (audio) \ noun
ineffably \ (ˌ)i-​ˈne-​fə-​blē How to pronounce ineffable (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 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 But the album’s highlights are more ineffable, and sometimes more exciting, than a mere sing-along. Spencer Kornhaber, The Atlantic, 29 July 2022 This speaks to an ineffable longing written on our hearts. Mike Kerrigan, WSJ, 29 July 2022 There does seem to be something extra going on with the food these days: crispier dosas, brighter flavors, more of that ineffable taste of home. Soleil Ho, San Francisco Chronicle, 28 July 2022 Under the ineffable laws of media distribution, the New York Post and the Wall Street Journal can write editorials zinging Trump without causing much, if any, harm to their respective business models. Erik Wemple, Washington Post, 25 July 2022 Propper noted that, especially in her editing, a willingness to be open to the unexpected was vital in achieving the film’s ineffable quality. The New Yorker, 15 July 2022 There are few symbols as ineffable and timeless as Louis Vutton’s house monogram. Laia Garcia-furtado, Vogue, 18 July 2022 When an artist knows how to work on such a big scale, Audi said, what happens in the Drill Hall expresses something ineffable and deeply emotional. Peter Marks, Washington Post, 8 July 2022 Carrère is largely unimpressed by critical hand-wringing about the ineffable uncertainties at the border of fiction and nonfiction. Ian Parker, The New Yorker, 4 July 2022 See More

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.

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

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Last Updated

4 Aug 2022

Cite this Entry

“Ineffable.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 15 Aug. 2022.

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More from Merriam-Webster on ineffable

Nglish: Translation of ineffable for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of ineffable for Arabic Speakers


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