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 Stewart played an array of video clips of both Biden and his allies offering a litany of excuses following the debacle. Charisma Madarang, Rolling Stone, 9 July 2024 After Rapp’s allegations, Spacey was swiftly dropped from a number of high-profile film and TV projects and has since found little work, instead fighting a litany of legal battles, on both sides of the Atlantic, in the civil and criminal courts. K.j. Yossman, Variety, 8 July 2024 After the arrests, it was discovered that Dee Dee subjected Gypsy to unnecessary medical treatments and convinced her daughter and others that her daughter had a litany of illnesses as a child. Joelle Goldstein, Peoplemag, 4 July 2024 Many of the witnesses who were at the party, including McCabe and the Alberts, exchanged a litany of phone calls to one another throughout the time O’Keefe supposedly lay on the lawn, per phone records. Aja Romano, Vox, 3 July 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 18 Jul. 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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