lit·​a·​ny | \ ˈli-tə-nē How to pronounce litany (audio) , 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.

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 After the man’s death, the Obama administration made changes to address a litany of excessive force complaints against Border Patrol agents and bring more transparency and accountability to Customs and Border Protection. New York Times, 9 Jan. 2022 For decades this low-income, majority Black community — less than two hours from Chicago on the southeastern shore of Lake Michigan — has been ravaged by a litany of woes shared with many other once-thriving American cities. Genevieve Bookwalter,, 4 Jan. 2022 But with ease of access comes a myriad of issues—namely unstable Wi-Fi connections that produce a litany of performance and latency issues. Zackery Cuevas, PCMAG, 3 Jan. 2022 Thompson, whose litany of moves included drafting Aaron Rodgers in 2005, was in charge for 13 seasons. Jr Radcliffe, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 1 Jan. 2022 The mailer included an image of Bibb that appeared to be digitally darkened and included a litany of anonymous allegations against him. Robert Higgs, cleveland, 28 Dec. 2021 Woods enters his senior year with 34 offers, including a litany of Southeastern Conference schools. Nick Alvarez |, al, 26 Dec. 2021 Among those who best eased her worries was UCLA’s Chip Kelly, who had coached a litany of top quarterbacks at Oregon and in the NFL. Los Angeles Times, 26 Dec. 2021 Last Saturday’s procession in Baltimore made three stops to sing the posada litany at Fruity Bar, Vargas Bakery and Salem Methodist Church before arriving at Our Lady of Pompei Church on Claremont Street. Stephanie García,, 25 Dec. 2021

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

Learn More About litany

Time Traveler for litany

Time Traveler

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

See more words from the same century

Listen to Our Podcast About litany

Dictionary Entries Near litany




See More Nearby Entries 

Statistics for litany

Last Updated

17 Jan 2022

Cite this Entry

“Litany.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 19 Jan. 2022.

Style: MLA
MLACheck Mark Icon ChicagoCheck Mark Icon APACheck Mark Icon Merriam-WebsterCheck Mark Icon

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.


Test Your Vocabulary

Name that Thing: Flower Edition

Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?

Universal Daily Crossword

A daily challenge for crossword fanatics.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

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