mel·​an·​choly | \ ˈme-lən-ˌkä-lē How to pronounce melancholy (audio) \
plural melancholies

Definition of melancholy

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1a : depression of spirits : dejection great outbursts of creativity alternate with feelings of extreme melancholy— Brenda Lane Richardson Mitchell sounds utterly alone in her melancholy, turning the sadness into tender art.Rolling Stone
b : a pensive mood a fine romantic kind of a melancholy on the fading of the year— Richard Holmes One white arm and hand drooped over the side of the chair, and her whole pose and figure spoke of an absorbing melancholy.— Arthur Conan Doyle
b archaic : an abnormal state attributed to an excess of black bile and characterized by irascibility or depression
c archaic : black bile



Definition of melancholy (Entry 2 of 2)

1a : suggestive or expressive of sadness or depression of mind or spirit sang in a melancholy voice
b : causing or tending to cause sadness or depression of mind or spirit : dismal a melancholy thought
2a : depressed in spirits : dejected, sad
b : pensive

Examples of melancholy in a Sentence

Noun the bleakness of winter sometimes gives me cause for melancholy Adjective A melancholy lesson of advancing years is the realization that you can't make old friends. — Christopher Hitchens, Harper's, June 1999 He has a snarled mop of spiky black hair, melancholy circles around his eyes, and a tiny Cupid's-bow mouth. — Pauline Kael, New Yorker, 17 Dec. 1990 I see your mournful party in my mind's eye under every varying circumstance of the day;  … the efforts to talk, the frequent summons to melancholy orders and cares, and poor Edward, restless in misery, going from one room to the other … — Jane Austen, letter, 24 Oct. 1808 She was in a melancholy mood. He became quiet and melancholy as the hours slowly passed. See More
Recent Examples on the Web: Noun Even in the maternity ward, the sight of women cradling babies roused the old melancholy. Washington Post, 6 May 2022 Despite the sweetness, Bright Eyes still evoke the melancholy of their earliest work. Spin Staff, SPIN, 14 Feb. 2022 This duality -- an attention to granular details alongside the hard work of processing tragedy -- provided me with a way through the melancholy of these last years. Jodi Ettenberg, CNN, 29 Jan. 2022 Her cheerfulness knows no bounds, but Dunst complicates it with the underlying melancholy of someone who wants more than her small-town life can provide. Matthew Jacobs, Vulture, 2 Dec. 2021 There is a certain melancholy to that observation, maybe even a kind of despair, that is enhanced by the strangely nostalgic atmosphere Kapadia evokes. Jessica Kiang, Variety, 4 Apr. 2022 And Duke returns from a vacation trip with her father (guest star Matthew Glave) with a new tween melancholy and some bad habits. Daniel Fienberg, The Hollywood Reporter, 24 Feb. 2022 Is there an overriding melancholy about Johns’s art? Peter Schjeldahl, The New Yorker, 4 Oct. 2021 The prevailing mood is one of melancholy for a way of life under threat and stability abruptly upended. David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter, 16 Feb. 2022 Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective The story is interspersed with aphoristic Japanese tales from various periods, as melancholy is gradually transmuted into joy. The New Yorker, 11 Oct. 2021 Tom’s reaction to his mother’s new focus carries the barest whiff of melancholy — just enough to suggest there might be something deeper and sadder simmering beneath his genial goofball persona. Angie Han, The Hollywood Reporter, 30 Mar. 2022 Webster seemed to understand that folk-country, Americana, and R. & B. all traced back to the same wellspring, and borrowed elements of all three to make witty music of melancholy. Sheldon Pearce, The New Yorker, 21 Dec. 2021 The nature of the separations at either end of the play differ in degree (one is melancholy, the other fractious); in between, there’s the pleasure and disorientation of seeing a memory from one’s past in the flesh again. Daniel D'addario, Variety, 28 Mar. 2022 After Yang invites us to think about big questions that might normally invite melancholy. Stephanie Zacharek, Time, 4 Mar. 2022 The action veers between cloying perkiness and raging melancholy, though the ups don’t burst through with a sense of manic danger and the furies aren’t within striking distance of the abyss. Richard Brody, The New Yorker, 10 Feb. 2022 Brian Heil was paired with graceful Erin Burt in the final dance, accompanied by Samuel Barber’s melancholy Adagio for Strings. San Diego Union-Tribune, 26 Dec. 2021 Creating a brighter, uncluttered environment can help ward off melancholy, especially for those who are spending most of their hours inside. Washington Post, 29 Nov. 2021 See More

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

First Known Use of melancholy


14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 2b


14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

History and Etymology for melancholy


Middle English malencolie, melancolie "black bile, preponderance or excess of black bile, state (as anger or sorrow) produced by excessive black bile," borrowed from Anglo-French & Late Latin; Anglo-French malencolie, melencolie, borrowed from Late Latin melancholia (Medieval Latin malencolia, by association with the prefix mal- mal-), borrowed from Greek melancholía, from melan-, athematic variant of melano- melano- + cholḗ "bile" + -ia -ia entry 1 — more at gall entry 1


Middle English malincolie, melancolie, from attributive use of malencolie melancholy entry 1, probably reinforced by construal of -ly as an adjective suffix

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Time Traveler for melancholy

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

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Dictionary Entries Near melancholy



melancholy thistle

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Last Updated

14 May 2022

Cite this Entry

“Melancholy.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 20 May. 2022.

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More Definitions for melancholy


mel·​an·​choly | \ ˈme-lən-ˌkä-lē How to pronounce melancholy (audio) \

Kids Definition of melancholy

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: sad sense 1 I'll be melancholy if you go.



Kids Definition of melancholy (Entry 2 of 2)

: a sad or gloomy mood


mel·​an·​choly | \ ˈmel-ən-ˌkäl-ē How to pronounce melancholy (audio) \
plural melancholies

Medical Definition of melancholy

1 : depression or dejection of spirits also : melancholia
2 archaic
a : an abnormal state attributed to an excess of black bile and characterized by irascibility or depression

Other Words from melancholy

melancholy adjective

More from Merriam-Webster on melancholy

Nglish: Translation of melancholy for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of melancholy for Arabic Speakers


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