lit·​a·​ny ˈli-tə-nē How to pronounce litany (audio)
plural litanies
: a prayer consisting of a series of invocations and supplications by the leader with alternate responses by the congregation
the Litany of the Saints
: a resonant or repetitive chant
a litany of cheering phrasesHerman Wouk
: a usually lengthy recitation or enumeration
a familiar litany of complaints
: a sizable series or set
a litany of problems
The drug has a litany of possible side effects.

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A Short History of Litany

How do we love the word litany? Let us count the ways. We love its original 13th century meaning, still in use today, referring to a call-and-response prayer in which a series of lines are spoken alternately by a leader and a congregation. We love how litany has developed in the intervening centuries three figurative senses, and we love each of these as well: first, a sense meaning “repetitive chant”; next, the “lengthy recitation” sense owing to the repetitious—and sometimes interminable—nature of the original litany; and finally, an even broader sense referring to any sizeable series or set. Though litanies of this third sort tend to be unpleasant, we choose today to think of the loveliness found in the idea of “a litany of sonnets by Elizabeth Barrett Browning.”

Examples of litany in a Sentence

He has a litany of grievances against his former employer. The team blamed its losses on a litany of injuries.
Recent Examples on the Web Despite the litany of injuries, the Rangers entered Wednesday in first place in the American League West with a 21-16 record and lead the Seattle Mariners by a half-game. Lawrence Dow, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, 8 May 2024 Those are the kinds of numbers the Hornets must see for Ball as opposed to the litany of DNPs he’s racked up. Roderick Boone, Charlotte Observer, 3 May 2024 See all Example Sentences for litany 

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'litany.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


Middle English letanie, from Anglo-French & Late Latin; Anglo-French, from Late Latin litania, from Late Greek litaneia, from Greek, entreaty, from litanos supplicant

First Known Use

13th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of litany was in the 13th century


Dictionary Entries Near litany

Cite this Entry

“Litany.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 22 May. 2024.

Kids Definition


lit·​a·​ny ˈlit-ᵊn-ē How to pronounce litany (audio)
plural litanies
: a prayer consisting of a series of lines spoken alternately by a leader and the congregation
Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
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