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 Cardinals and robins chirp their plaintive love calls from trees on the inland side., "Boston Harborwalk in four easy pieces," 28 Apr. 2021 The interviews begin to blur together—pairs of Brians and Davids and Aarons run into a plaintive, cautiously optimistic chorus. Dan Piepenbring, The New Yorker, "The Romantic Partners of Exotic Dancers," 30 Mar. 2021 Writer-director Philippe Falardeau films the letters as monologues delivered by the writers to the camera, which only emphasizes their untidy and plaintive neediness. Globe Staff,, "Raise high the roof beam, Joanna," 4 Mar. 2021 At her first performance in Rabbit Creek, Lotta danced an Irish jig and a reel and sang a plaintive ballad. Gary Kamiya,, "Who is the Lotta of Lotta’s Fountain? She was once one of America’s biggest stars," 11 Dec. 2020 Unfortunately—and this might come across as the plaintive grunts of frustrated troglodytes—the dash redesign killed the DVD player. Ezra Dyer, Car and Driver, "Tested: 2021 Infiniti QX80 Remains Relevant," 24 Nov. 2020 Long live extremely plaintive female-fronted indie rock, and God bless America! Emma Specter, Vogue, "Phoebe Bridgers and Maggie Rogers’s Cover of ‘Iris’ Is the Sole Ray of Light in My Life," 13 Nov. 2020 These, for all their plaintive cheeping and soft, fuzzy plumage, are tiny, high-performance meat factories. The Economist, "Chaguan High-tech chickens are a case study of why self-reliance is so hard," 29 Oct. 2020 The title song, which races along at a hundred and ninety beats per minute, is a frenetic, danceable soundtrack for this miserable moment, a song that transforms pain and worry into something plaintive, angry, and defiant. Daniel Alarcón, The New Yorker, "Rita Indiana’s Songs for the Apocalypse," 19 Oct. 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

4 May 2021

Cite this Entry

“Plaintive.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 14 May. 2021.

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More Definitions for plaintive



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

More from Merriam-Webster on plaintive

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for plaintive

Nglish: Translation of plaintive for Spanish Speakers

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