plain·​tive | \ˈplān-tiv \

Definition of plaintive 

: expressive of suffering or woe : melancholy a plaintive sigh

Keep scrolling for more

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

He is perpetually narcotized, endlessly plaintive, borderline disoriented. New York Times, "Post Malone and Rae Sremmurd, Hip-Hop Impressionists Shaping the Stream," 9 May 2018 This is one of her more conventional songs, a tortured ballad that showcases her plaintive voice. Jon Caramanica, New York Times, "A K-Pop Primer for Olympic Listening," 7 Feb. 2018 This is a plaintive group date, because Jason, Wills, and Leo are clearly such good friends. Rebecca Farley,, "The Bachelorette Season 14, Episode 7 Recap: Becca Picks A Supreme Court Nominee," 10 July 2018 His story, less visibly traumatic than Jason's, is more plaintive. Rebecca Farley,, "The Bachelorette Season 14, Episode 6 Recap: Is Now Really The Time For A "Debate"?," 3 July 2018 Lloyd complements Williams’s plaintive growl with his own tenor saxophone cries, in some cases the obbligatos becoming an ongoing commentary. Jon Garelick,, "Charles Lloyd, Lucinda Williams meet at the crossroads," 27 June 2018 Such music is usually plaintive, nostalgic, seemingly simplistic, maudlin or sometimes just fringe complex and weird. Michael Nagrant, RedEye Chicago, "Daisies in Logan Square makes the case for dad food," 3 Aug. 2017 Buddy Guy plays 150 shows a year and releases a new album every 24 months, and his take on the blues, expressed through his plaintive voice and virtuosic guitar, is still scorching. David Ritz, Billboard, "Buddy Guy Talks Enlisting Mick Jagger and Keith Richards to Ensure 'The Blues Is Alive and Well'," 15 June 2018 But with the rise of dockless bike share has come a new backlash, and critics are sounding plaintive warnings about the chaos caused by large quantities of untethered bicycles. Eben Weiss, Outside Online, "Bike Share Can Save Our Cities—If We Let It," 13 June 2018

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.

See More

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

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about plaintive

Listen to Our Podcast about plaintive

Statistics for plaintive

Last Updated

27 Oct 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for plaintive

The first known use of plaintive was circa 1570

See more words from the same year

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for plaintive



English Language Learners Definition of plaintive

: expressing suffering or sadness : having a sad sound


plain·​tive | \ˈplān-tiv \

Kids Definition of plaintive

: showing or suggesting sadness : mournful a plaintive sigh

Keep scrolling for more

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

Comments on plaintive

What made you want to look up plaintive? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


to enclose within walls

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Late Autumn 2018 Words of the Day Quiz

  • frosted-autumn-leaves
  • Which is a synonym of yahoo?
True or False

Test your knowledge - and maybe learn something along the way.


Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.


Love words? Need even more definitions?

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