lit·​a·​ny | \ˈli-tə-nē, ˈlit-nē\
plural litanies

Definition of litany 

1 : a prayer consisting of a series of invocations and supplications by the leader with alternate responses by the congregation the Litany of the Saints

2a : a resonant or repetitive chant a litany of cheering phrases— Herman Wouk

b : a usually lengthy recitation or enumeration a familiar litany of complaints

c : a sizable series or set a litany of problems The drug has a litany of possible side effects.

Keep scrolling for more

A Short History of Litany

Litany came to English through Anglo-French and Late Latin, ultimately from the Greek word litaneia, meaning "entreaty." Litany refers literally to a type of prayer in which a series of lines are spoken alternately by a leader and a congregation. This use dates to the 13th century. Between that century and the 20th, three figurative senses developed. The chant-like quality of a literal litany led first to a "repetitive chant" sense. Next, the repetitious—and sometimes interminable—nature of the original litany led to a "lengthy recitation" sense. Finally, the "lengthy recitation" sense was extended to refer to any sizable series or set.

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

The main exception was Mädchen Amick's Shelly, who faced a litany of abuse at the hands of her scumbag husband Leo (Eric Da Re), and in the new series appears to be slipping back into old patterns. Emma Dibdin, Marie Claire, "Is There Too Much Violence Against Women in the New 'Twin Peaks'? Mädchen Amick Addresses the Debate," 28 July 2017 The strident remarks from the British prime minister were a marked departure for a leader who has faced a litany of domestic and international issues. Richard PÉrez-peÑa,, "Britain expels 23 Russian diplomats over ex-spy’s poisoning," 14 Mar. 2018 In addition to the SEC charges, which were filed in May 2015, ITT was the subject of probes from about 20 state attorneys general over a litany of allegations regarding the school's recruitment tactics and academic offerings. James Briggs, Indianapolis Star, "Top ITT executives agree to fines, ban from top corporate jobs in SEC settlement," 9 July 2018 The company held two splashy events in previous years but is nowhere to be seen this year after a litany of problems. Alyssa Newcomb, NBC News, "CES 2018: A reality check on this year’s wildest tech products," 9 Jan. 2018 The volcano is just one of a litany of new Jurassic spectacles. Josephine Livingstone, The New Republic, "We’re Going to Need a Bigger Island," 22 June 2018 What starts off as a mundane account of a father-son hunting trip gives way to a litany of weapons and their uses. Lauren Mechling, New York Times, "When the Aftermath of a Shooting Is as Devastating as the Crime," 23 Apr. 2018 Yet, wary of his injury record, and of the litany of fractures and sprains suffered by former NBA big men such as Yao Ming and Bill Walton, the Sixers continue to restrict Embiid’s playing time. Tom Avril,, "Is Joel Embiid's size an injury risk? Science explains it all," 23 Jan. 2018 The same was true for a litany of free agents over the past few years, from Carmelo Anthony to LaMarcus Aldridge to Kevin Durant to Gordon Hayward. Tim Bontemps,, "For Jeanie Buss, NBA free agency marks the next step in a resurgence for Lakers," 26 June 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'litany.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

See More

First Known Use of litany

13th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for litany

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

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about litany

Listen to Our Podcast about litany

Dictionary Entries near litany






Lit B


Statistics for litany

Last Updated

13 Nov 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for litany

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

See more words from the same century

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for litany



English Language Learners Definition of litany

: a prayer in a Christian church service in which the people at the service respond to lines spoken by the person who is leading the service

: a long list of complaints, problems, etc.

Keep scrolling for more

More from Merriam-Webster on litany

Spanish Central: Translation of litany

Nglish: Translation of litany for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of litany for Arabic Speakers

Comments on litany

What made you want to look up litany? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


to clear from alleged fault or guilt

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Difficult Vocab Quiz

  • the-education-of-achilles-eugne-delacroix
  • Which is a synonym of discomfit?
True or False

Test your knowledge - and maybe learn something along the way.

Word Winder's CrossWinder

Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.


Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!