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
Recent Examples on the Web
Adjective
His plain hope is that the current Court will be sympathetic to Scalia’s reasoning. Jonathan Blitzer, The New Yorker, 31 Mar. 2024 An investment in a plain vanilla S&P 500 index fund would have performed about as well, at a much lower cost. Liz Weston, San Diego Union-Tribune, 31 Mar. 2024 If your leather jacket is a moto style, try layering it over a pair of trousers or jeans with a plain white T-shirt. Kerane Marcellus, Essence, 29 Mar. 2024 Get The Recipe 43 of 54 Apple-Pie Infused Bourbon Turn a plain bottle of hooch into a top-shelf indulgence, infused with sweet autumn flavor. Southern Living Editors, Southern Living, 28 Mar. 2024 To make a projector, cut a 1- to 2-inch square or rectangle out of the center of a piece of plain white paper or white cardboard. Jesse Kirsch, NBC News, 28 Mar. 2024 The case is as modest as possible, featuring a plain (boring) fully matte body. Dua Rashid / Gizmodo, Quartz, 24 Mar. 2024 One was clearly the patch in their card, the other a plain piece of white fabric. Daniel Miller, Los Angeles Times, 14 Mar. 2024 The carmaker’s brand chief, Thomas Schaefer, put Volkswagen’s current competitiveness plight in plain language to employees. Ryan Hogg, Fortune Europe, 13 Mar. 2024
Noun
Still reeling from losing their daughter, the couple unexpectedly inherit a remote farm in the Venezuelan plains where they are soon drawn into a nether world. K.j. Yossman, Variety, 28 Mar. 2024 However, the white paper-mache bird was actually supposed to be a greater-sage grouse – a bird that lives in the North American plains. Kathleen Wong, USA TODAY, 25 Mar. 2024 Another spring snowstorm is setting up for the northern plains on Sunday and into early next week. Daniel Amarante, ABC News, 23 Mar. 2024 The Bruneau is a secret canyon in Southwest Idaho’s sagebrush plain, located between 90 and 120 miles southeast of Boise. Pete Zimowsky, Idaho Statesman, 31 Jan. 2024 The historic Turkey Track Ranch in Hutchinson County lost around 80% of its pastures, plains and creek bottom vegetation to the Smokehouse Creek Fire, ranch managers said in a statement Wednesday. Harriet Ramos, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, 29 Feb. 2024 Its main tourism regions—the Chobe River that forms its northern border, the flood plain of the Okavango Delta and the salt pans within the Kalahari Desert—allow for travel by boat as well as overland. Ann Abel, Forbes, 28 Feb. 2024 Raising the house and complying with the modern flood plain ended up being more intricate and costly than the organization’s board could have imagined, said Meme Sweets Runyon, the executive director of River Fields, who grew up in the Harrods Creek area near the home. Maggie Menderski, The Courier-Journal, 27 Feb. 2024 Widely considered a flop, with no major oil companies placing bids, the auction nevertheless leased more than 400,000 acres of the coastal plain to fossil fuel interests. TIME, 8 Feb. 2024
Adverb
There are plenty of reasons to savor the original movie, most of them having to do with the casting, some of it campy and awful in a truly wonderful way, some just plain spectacular. Brian Lowry, CNN, 27 Mar. 2024 Davis would have swatted or altered or just plain stopped much of that mess. Bill Plaschke, Los Angeles Times, 17 Mar. 2024 Thanks to Stone’s abundant charisma, Cruella marks one of the more memorable Disney remakes — chaotic, campy, and just plain fun. Shania Russell, EW.com, 10 Mar. 2024 But, all too often, a patient’s pain is dismissed or misdiagnosed—for instance, as allergies, IBS, a thyroid disorder, or just plain old period problems, as SELF previously reported. Jenna Ryu, SELF, 14 Mar. 2024 And some things, such as strangers’ most intimate secrets, are just plain interesting. Spencer Kornhaber, The Atlantic, 13 Mar. 2024 These books range from the literary to the historical to the plain weird. Jim Ruland, Los Angeles Times, 10 Mar. 2024 With or without financial advisors, some elders are just plain stubborn about letting anyone else manage money and make decisions. Carolyn Rosenblatt, Forbes, 27 Feb. 2024 That streak culminated in Mr. Trump’s Super Tuesday blowout, which laid plain the near-impossibility of a path forward. Jonathan Weisman Ruth Fremson, New York Times, 6 Mar. 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

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 14 Apr. 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

Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
Love words? Need even more definitions?

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