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

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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 Not many composers outside Hollywood can glide quite so effortlessly from raunchy banter to plaintive confessional. Justin Davidson, Vulture, 28 Sep. 2021 Cracknell’s versatile singing blended plaintive folk with the sounds of sixties girl groups and the luscious sirens of house music. The New Yorker, 13 Sep. 2021 At times, the notes take on a curiously plaintive tone. Alex Ross, The New Yorker, 20 Sep. 2021 The text is a plea for mercy, but the violin, too, speaks, its plaintive grace moving us to a place of empathy and forgiveness. Richard Sandomir, New York Times, 3 Aug. 2021 Darwin's final words on the topic, written in 1880 just two years before his death, expressed a plaintive hope that future developments might reconcile the needs of natural selection with physics calculations. Mano Singham, Scientific American, 5 Sep. 2021 This one is more leisurely, opening with more than 50 seconds of Feid singing accompanied only by plaintive acoustic guitar. Elias Leight, Rolling Stone, 30 Aug. 2021 Reeves’s prints combine plaintive text with ghostly landscapes, both framed by large swaths of white (or occasionally black) space. Washington Post, 20 Aug. 2021 Britney Spears might disagree with that last statement, having made plaintive requests to the court in recent months asking that her father be given the boot. Los Angeles Times, 12 Aug. 2021

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

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The first known use of plaintive was circa 1570

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Dictionary Entries Near plaintive

plain tire


plain turkey

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Last Updated

7 Oct 2021

Cite this Entry

“Plaintive.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 17 Oct. 2021.

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More Definitions for plaintive



English Language Learners Definition of plaintive

: 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

More from Merriam-Webster on plaintive

Nglish: Translation of plaintive for Spanish Speakers


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