plain·​tive | \ ˈplān-tiv How to pronounce plaintive (audio) \

Definition of plaintive

: expressive of suffering or woe : melancholy a plaintive sigh

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Other Words from plaintive

plaintively adverb
plaintiveness noun

Did You Know?

Like its relative "plangent," "plaintive" is often used to describe sad sounds. "A plaintive wail," for example, is a common use. "Plaintive" and "plangent" (along with relatives "plaintiff" and "complain") ultimately derive from the Latin verb plangere, meaning "to strike," "to beat one's breast," or "to lament." This Latin verb led to "plaint," an Anglo-French word (and now also an English word) meaning "lamentation." "Plaint" is the root of Middle English "plaintif" (meaning "lamenting" or "complaining"), which gave rise to "plaintive" as well as the noun "plaintiff."

Examples of plaintive in a Sentence

We could hear the plaintive cry of a wounded animal in the woods. the puppy's plaintive expression after we put the toy away was rather amusing
Recent Examples on the Web Among the contributions from local artists is a plaintive piano ballad by Mr. Newman. Stephen Humphries, The Christian Science Monitor, "A different kind of care package: Concertgoers ‘Blanket the Homeless’," 23 June 2020 But these songs took on a new feel—plaintive, yearning cries filling up a bright room somewhere unreachable across the country. Hua Hsu, The New Yorker, "Tuning In to Instagram D.J.s," 17 Apr. 2020 This is such a plaintive, nonbitter breakup song—every line is good. Glamour, "51 Best Sad Love Songs for a Broken Heart," 11 Feb. 2020 Whereas the plaintive mysticism of Kevin Costner hearing the voices of dead White Sox . . Washington Post, "The Oscars always get it wrong. Here are the real best pictures of the past 44 years.," 6 Feb. 2020 Its new age veneer and plaintive, pensive ambiance forges a place of comforting repose: an oasis that seems frozen in time. Billboard Staff, Billboard, "The 25 Best K-pop Albums of 2019: Critics' Picks," 31 Dec. 2019 Circles is the endpoint of this verbal retreat: Miller pared down his syllables to mostly embrace a soulful brand of folk rock, relying on his unadorned, plaintive singing like never before. Time, "Mac Miller's Posthumous Album Circles Is a Heartbreaking Plea For Inner Peace," 17 Jan. 2020 These radiant tones set the stage for a striking contrast: clarinetist John Bruce Yeh’s darkly veiled timbre, the very essence of plaintive Tchaikovsky phrase-making. Howard Reich,, "CSO review: A dynamic debut from violinist Ray Chen," 6 Dec. 2019 Offill deploys a lot of sometimes ironic, sometimes plaintive factoids about subjects like the animal world, prepping and Eastern religion. Dwight Garner, New York Times, "In Jenny Offill’s ‘Weather,’ Paranoia Is Delivered With Humor," 31 Jan. 2020

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

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First Known Use of plaintive

circa 1570, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for plaintive

Middle English plaintif grieving, from Anglo-French pleintif, plaintif, from plaint

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Time Traveler for plaintive

Time Traveler

The first known use of plaintive was circa 1570

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Last Updated

2 Jul 2020

Cite this Entry

“Plaintive.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 6 Aug. 2020.

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More Definitions for plaintive


How to pronounce plaintive (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of plaintive

formal : expressing suffering or sadness : having a sad sound


plain·​tive | \ ˈplān-tiv How to pronounce plaintive (audio) \

Kids Definition of plaintive

: showing or suggesting sadness : mournful a plaintive sigh

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More from Merriam-Webster on plaintive

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for plaintive

Spanish Central: Translation of plaintive

Nglish: Translation of plaintive for Spanish Speakers

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