plain

1 of 5

adjective

1
: lacking ornament : undecorated
2
: free of extraneous matter : pure
3
: free of impediments to view : unobstructed
4
a(1)
: evident to the mind or senses : obvious
it's perfectly plain that they will resist
(2)
: clear
let me make my meaning plain
b
: marked by outspoken candor : free from duplicity or subtlety : blunt
plain talk
5
a
: belonging to the masses : common
b
: lacking special distinction or affectation : ordinary
6
: characterized by simplicity : not complicated
plain home-cooked meals
7
: lacking beauty or ugliness
8
archaic : even, level
plainly adverb
plainness noun

plain

2 of 5

noun

1
a
: an extensive area of level or rolling treeless country
b
: a broad unbroken expanse
2
: something free from artifice, ornament, or extraneous matter

plain

3 of 5

adverb (1)

: in a plain manner : without obscurity or ambiguity
saw them clearly and told you plainAmer. Documentation

plain

4 of 5

adverb (2)

: absolutely sense 1a
plain wrong

plain

5 of 5

verb

plained; plaining; plains
Choose the Right Synonym for plain

common, ordinary, plain, familiar, popular, vulgar mean generally met with and not in any way special, strange, or unusual.

common implies usual everyday quality or frequency of occurrence

a common error
lacked common honesty

and may additionally suggest inferiority or coarseness.

common manners

ordinary stresses conformance in quality or kind with the regular order of things.

an ordinary pleasant summer day
a very ordinary sort of man

plain is likely to suggest homely simplicity.

plain hard-working people

familiar stresses the fact of being generally known and easily recognized.

a familiar melody

popular applies to what is accepted by or prevalent among people in general sometimes in contrast to upper classes or special groups.

a writer of popular romances

vulgar, otherwise similar to popular, is likely to carry derogatory connotations (as of inferiority or coarseness).

souvenirs designed to appeal to the vulgar taste

evident, manifest, patent, distinct, obvious, apparent, plain, clear mean readily perceived or apprehended.

evident implies presence of visible signs that lead one to a definite conclusion.

an evident fondness for sweets

manifest implies an external display so evident that little or no inference is required.

manifest hostility

patent applies to a cause, effect, or significant feature that is clear and unmistakable once attention has been directed to it.

patent defects

distinct implies such sharpness of outline or definition that no unusual effort to see or hear or comprehend is required.

a distinct refusal

obvious implies such ease in discovering that it often suggests conspicuousness or little need for perspicacity in the observer.

the obvious solution

apparent is very close to evident except that it may imply more conscious exercise of inference.

for no apparent reason

plain suggests lack of intricacy, complexity, or elaboration.

her feelings about him are plain

clear implies an absence of anything that confuses the mind or obscures the pattern.

a clear explanation

frank, candid, open, plain mean showing willingness to tell what one feels or thinks.

frank stresses lack of shyness or secretiveness or of evasiveness from considerations of tact or expedience.

frank discussions

candid suggests expression marked by sincerity and honesty especially in offering unwelcome criticism or opinion.

a candid appraisal

open implies frankness but suggests more indiscretion than frank and less earnestness than candid.

open in saying what they think

plain suggests outspokenness and freedom from affectation or subtlety in expression.

plain talk

Examples of plain in a Sentence

Adjective It was a plain room with no curtains. She was wearing plain black shoes. He printed the picture on plain paper. a piece of plain chicken You don't have to call me Mr. Johnson—just plain Fred will be fine. What he said is a lie, plain and simple. Noun the Great Plains of the United States the first settlers in that area lived on the vast plains in lonely log cabins See More
Recent Examples on the Web
Adjective
Forbes senior contributor Tony Bradley talked to the company’s chief technology officer Elia Zaitsev about the release, which basically allows security analysts to ask complex queries in plain language and get immediate actionable insights. Cio, Forbes, 22 Feb. 2024 Whether misreading the market or through plain stubbornness, Boras clients have occasionally been forced to settle for substandard deals, a handful even after the regular season has commenced. Steve Henson, Los Angeles Times, 21 Feb. 2024 Styling-wise, follow suit and pair yours with the ultimate closet combination: a plain but perfect white tee and classic light-wash blue jeans. Laura Jackson, Vogue, 20 Feb. 2024 The garlic flavor is yummy, with salty popcorn, pretzels, and pepitas over a base of plain cereal. Emily Vanschmus, Better Homes & Gardens, 19 Feb. 2024 Cons The plain gray color isn’t the most aesthetically pleasing. Cai Cramer, Peoplemag, 16 Feb. 2024 These pajamas come in a variety of different patterns and colors, from plain black with white piping to leopard print with black piping. Barbara Bellesi Zito, Travel + Leisure, 12 Feb. 2024 Every tiny detail and every effort is in their plain view. Mikhail Kadymov, Forbes, 12 Feb. 2024 Sometimes the legislative ambiguity that surrenders control is accidental — a mark of plain incompetence. Clive Crook, Twin Cities, 10 Feb. 2024
Noun
She is lured back to the open plains by her friend, Javi (Anthony Ramos) to test a groundbreaking new tracking system. Emily Zemler, Rolling Stone, 12 Feb. 2024 But wildlife watchers have plenty of viewing options, from seeking herds of elk at Rocky Mountain National Park to observing bird migrations on the plains. Mindy Sink, The Denver Post, 7 Feb. 2024 How Israel reacted Within hours of the attack, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered retaliatory airstrikes on Gaza, 140 square miles of relatively flat coastal plain bordering Israel, Egypt and the Mediterranean Sea. Kim Hjelmgaard, USA TODAY, 14 Jan. 2024 The Plastics and their tactics are meant to be as feral as the African plains. Maureen Lee Lenker, EW.com, 10 Jan. 2024 The general path of the L.A. River as known today was carved in 1825, after a big flood cut a new route across a plain of wetlands and forests, according to the county, into what is now Long Beach, which was originally marsh. Rong-Gong Lin Ii, Los Angeles Times, 11 Feb. 2024 It's taken Keith and his wife, Tricia, 12 years to create their dream home on the green, rolling plains of Oklahoma. Alicia Dennis, Peoplemag, 10 Feb. 2024 Tang yuan is believed to have originated as a snack in China during the Song dynasty (960-1279 C.E.), emerging from the coastal plains of the city of Ningbo, known then as Mingzhou. Catherine Duncan, Smithsonian Magazine, 7 Feb. 2024 But the size of ancient predators puts current carnivores to shame, with true giants swimming the oceans, flying the skies, and walking the plains and forests of the prehistoric world. Joshua Rapp Learn, Discover Magazine, 6 Dec. 2023
Adverb
At a plain white table, Carol, who has a master’s degree in public health, began her routine: checking a spreadsheet of prescriptions; printing out labels with medication information and patients’ names; printing address labels with tracking numbers and adding them to the spreadsheet. Pam Belluck, New York Times, 22 Feb. 2024 Nevertheless, the quote inevitably garnered some bad faith (or just plain dumb) backlash. Jon Blistein, Rolling Stone, 21 Feb. 2024 The track is coming under the increasing influence of springtime low-pressure systems with their large cloud shields and just plain bad weather. Jay Anderson, Discover Magazine, 21 Feb. 2024 Indeed, with a plot swinging from mundane to terrifying, and plenty of detours into just plain stupid, Fargo still feels fresh nearly three decades later. Debby Wolfinsohn, EW.com, 4 Feb. 2024 Reese’s: Kind of the ultimate example of being big and loud and ultimately just plain annoying, as people react crazily over the prospect of getting their candy – or not. Brian Lowry, CNN, 11 Feb. 2024 Her version is still my favorite: plain, filling-less white rice balls in a simple brown-sugar soup. Catherine Duncan, Smithsonian Magazine, 7 Feb. 2024 Unusually heavy rains could trigger a premature opening of 67-year-old Whittier Narrows Dam’s massive spillway, according to the report, posing a potentially catastrophic risk to the more than 1 million people who live and work in the San Gabriel River flood plain east of downtown Los Angeles. Louis Sahagún, Los Angeles Times, 6 Feb. 2024 One pair will come in a plain white colorway while the other will be a brown and white cow print. Kerane Marcellus, Essence, 5 Feb. 2024
Verb
Senior reviewer Scott Gilbertson's daughter has worn these for two years— everywhere from the icy, windy Colorado plains to the windswept Outer Banks—and she's had toasty toes throughout. Scott Gilbertson, WIRED, 27 Nov. 2023 Whereas his first billions were owed to plain, functional, durable clothing at minimal cost, today Uniqlo has moved up the value chain. Time, 13 Nov. 2023 My daughter has worn these for two years— everywhere from the icy, windy Colorado plains to the windswept Outer Banks—and she's had toasty toes throughout. WIRED, 10 Nov. 2023 Cruz spins these operations into digital content ranging from tips for aspiring investors to plain old-fashioned yacht-flaunting braggadocio. Michael Friedrich, New York Times, 18 Oct. 2023 While most places see snow at the onset, coastal areas likely mix with and changeover to plain rain overnight into Tuesday AM. Hartford Courant, 26 Feb. 2023 Flavored water generally refers to anything that adds flavoring to plain water, whether that be artificial syrups or powders, or something more natural, such as fruit. Julia Landwehr, Health, 17 Apr. 2023 But there aren’t enough wires stretching from the state’s windy eastern plains to the mesa-top community. WIRED, 27 Feb. 2023 Southern areas of the state will at least turn to a wintry mix if not over to plain rain. Hartford Courant, 26 Feb. 2023 See More

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

Word History

Etymology

Noun

Middle English, from Anglo-French, from Latin planum, from neuter of planus flat, plain — more at floor

Adverb (2)

partly from Middle English plein entire, complete, from Anglo-French, full, from Latin plenus; partly from plain entry 3 — more at full

Verb

Middle English, from Anglo-French pleindre, plaindre, from Latin plangere to lament — more at plaint

First Known Use

Adjective

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 8

Noun

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

Adverb (1)

14th century, in the meaning defined above

Adverb (2)

14th century, in the meaning defined above

Verb

14th century, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of plain was in the 14th century

Dictionary Entries Near plain

Cite this Entry

“Plain.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/plain. Accessed 29 Feb. 2024.

Kids Definition

plain

1 of 4 noun
: a broad area of level or rolling treeless country

plain

2 of 4 adjective
1
: having no pattern or decoration
her dress was plain
2
: free of added or extra matter : pure
a glass of plain water
3
: open and clear to the sight
in plain view
4
a
: clear to the mind
your meaning was plain
b
: frank, blunt
plain speaking
5
a
: of common or average accomplishments or position : ordinary
plain people
b
: not complicated or hard to do
plain sewing
6
: neither ugly nor beautiful
plainly adverb
plainness
ˈplān-nəs
noun

plain

3 of 4 adverb
: in a plain or simple manner

plain

4 of 4 adverb
: to a complete degree : totally
were plain overcome by all the problems
Etymology

Noun

Middle English plain "a stretch of nearly level treeless country," from early French plain (same meaning), derived from Latin planus "flat" — related to plane entry 1

Adverb

partly from Middle English plein (adjective) "entire, complete" (derived from Latin plenus "full") and partly from plain (adverb) "in a plain manner" (derived from Latin planus "flat, level")

More from Merriam-Webster on plain

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