plain·​tive ˈplān-tiv How to pronounce plaintive (audio)
: expressive of suffering or woe : melancholy
a plaintive sigh
plaintively adverb
plaintiveness noun

Did you know?

“The people are drifting from door to door / Can’t find no heaven I don’t care where they go.” So sang Nehemiah Curtis “Skip” James on a Depression-era recording of his song “Hard Time Killing Floor Blues.” James’s somber lyrics as well as his otherworldly falsetto and distinctive minor-key fingerpicking may be aptly described by the adjective plaintive—deeply expressive, like much of the blues. Plaintive comes from the Middle English word plaintif, meaning “grieving,” a borrowing from an identical Anglo-French word that itself was formed from the Anglo-French noun plaint, a word meaning “lamentation.” (Plaint was also adopted directly into English to refer to expressions of sorrow, mourning, or regret.) Plaintif is the source too of the familiar legal term plaintiff, which refers to someone who presents a legal action or complaint to a court. But while only some people become plaintiffs, all are capable of plaintiveness, whether in song or just a world-weary sigh.

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 Both of their voices wrap around the plaintive guitars and steady percussion, prioritizing selective restraint over bombastic belts which drives home the tension between the position of each vocalist. Michael Saponara, Billboard, 20 May 2024 That anyone resisted its plaintive lucidity is hard to imagine now—and that Judith got neither sufficient credit nor a raise or bonus commensurate with the profits is still a little shocking. Adam Gopnik, The New Yorker, 25 Apr. 2024 Abela’s plaintive demeanor and wide, open face makes for a much more vulnerable and softer Amy. Sophie Wilkinson, Vogue, 16 Apr. 2024 The plaintive tone of one undated email appears to show Artiles’ distress at being iced out. Mario Alejandro Ariza, Miami Herald, 12 Apr. 2024 See all Example Sentences for plaintive 

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

Word History


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

First Known Use

circa 1570, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of plaintive was circa 1570


Dictionary Entries Near plaintive

Cite this Entry

“Plaintive.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 16 Jun. 2024.

Kids Definition


plain·​tive ˈplānt-iv How to pronounce plaintive (audio)
: showing or expressing sorrow : mournful, sad
a plaintive sigh
plaintively adverb
plaintiveness noun

More from Merriam-Webster on plaintive

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