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 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 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 From its honeyed starch to its tangy tartar and savory fillet, the taste of the Filet-O-Fish carries an ineffable umami-ness. New York Times, "Why the Filet-O-Fish Is My Gold Standard for Fast Food," 20 Apr. 2021 There’s something ineffable about reading A Moveable Feast while walking on Rue Cardinale Lemoine, Hemingway’s first address in Paris. Will Jeakle, Forbes, "In Search Of Ernest Hemingway," 4 Apr. 2021 The hearing of those wild notes always depressed my spirit and filled me with ineffable sadness. New York Times, "Black Spirituals as Poetry and Resistance," 5 Mar. 2021 This plan provided the opportunity to see every National League team once at the ineffable price of $1. San Diego Union-Tribune, "San Diego Stadium farewell: Readers share their favorite memories," 28 Feb. 2021 That sort of ineffable, hard-to-pin-down portrait was exactly Zhao’s intention. New York Times, "What Frances McDormand Would (and Wouldn’t) Give to ‘Nomadland’," 22 Feb. 2021 After a lifetime of her ineffable grace on stage, in film, and on television, Tyson died on Jan. 28 at 96. Natalie Johnson, NBC News, "Remembering Cicely Tyson, a trailblazer for Black women, on and off the screen," 1 Feb. 2021 What the authors were summoning in that reference was the notion that some people have an ineffable gift for profit and riches. Washington Post, "Trump imagined himself a modern-day Midas. His touch was anything but golden.," 15 Jan. 2021 Despite its flaws, the franchise’s first live-action TV series continues to capture the ineffable spirit of the original trilogy. Isaac Schorr, National Review, "The Mandalorian’s Second Season Gives Star Wars Fans Their Fix," 26 Dec. 2020

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 entry 1

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

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Last Updated

30 Apr 2021

Cite this Entry

“Ineffable.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 8 May. 2021.

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More Definitions for ineffable



English Language Learners Definition of ineffable

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

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