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?

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.

Example Sentences

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 There’s little unity to be found between a public protest and a sporting event — one is plaintive, strident; the other tensely exhilarating — but both take their toll on the body as muscles tense, voices strain, and cortisol flows. Globe Staff,, 22 Dec. 2022 With his plaintive gaze and sonorous voice, the actor brings a wonderful blend of humor and empathy to the role. Kristen Baldwin,, 13 Dec. 2022 This is, above all, a love story, almost as gripping and plaintive as the tunes that skyrocketed the pair into lasting fame. Angie Han, The Hollywood Reporter, 29 Nov. 2022 Weaving around the snares, kicks, and low, grinding bass line, the whale sounds mournful, almost plaintive, and never strays far from the center of attention. Matthew Hutson, The New Yorker, 29 Nov. 2022 This plaintive cry is not new, at least to anyone who has paid attention to Jewish debate in the last decade or more. Jane Eisner, Washington Post, 19 Oct. 2022 Femi Temowo’s blues underscoring is a welcome addition, landing on the ears as richly evocative of New York in the 1950s and supplying a plaintive embroidery to the overarching sadness of the proceedings. Peter Marks, Washington Post, 10 Oct. 2022 There’s something so matter-of-fact yet plaintive about his records, and that combination is incredibly compelling. Brenna Ehrlich, Rolling Stone, 23 Aug. 2022 An early breakthrough came from listening to a traditional singer of the Serer people, whose plaintive melody reminded Catta of a Renaissance motet. Julian Lucas, The New Yorker, 29 Aug. 2022 See More

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.

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 6 Feb. 2023.

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

Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
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