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

The Modzitzer sect, based in Bnei Brak, Israel, is famous in the Jewish world for soulful melodies, sometimes plaintive and sometimes joyous. Joseph Berger, New York Times, "Velvel Pasternak, Preserver of Hasidic Music, Is Dead at 85," 12 June 2019 Inslee said, his voice rising in one of the debate’s most plaintive moments. Matt Pearce, Los Angeles Times, "Jay Inslee drops out of 2020 presidential race," 21 Aug. 2019 Tetris Effect is still Tetris filtered through a heady, sincere blend of hyper-chromatic visuals and plaintive electronic music. Sam Byford, The Verge, "Tetris Effect remains transcendent on PC," 24 July 2019 And lurking within, at the foot of the holy mountain known as Nanda Devi, lies an inviolable Shangri-la of golden grassland, silent but for the rumble of avalanches and the plaintive bleats of wild sheep. National Geographic, "Why the world’s most daunting mountains inspire me," 11 Apr. 2019 This is the neighborhood where Jimmie (Fails) has been crashing with his best friend, the aspiring playwright Montgomery, played with a plaintive assurance by Jonathan Majors. Michael Phillips,, "'Last Black Man in San Francisco' review: This old house tells a story," 11 June 2019 The plaintive piece, originally performed by Lee in 2011, tells blunt stories about disappointments, then breaks into songs about how, say, none of us are special enough to avoid catastrophe in life. Nelson Pressley, Washington Post, "‘We’re Gonna Die’ makes you feel okay about it," 4 June 2019 His voice lived in contrast to his body, small and plaintive. Lena Dunham, Vogue, "Can a Good Man Mistreat You During Sex—If That’s What You Desire?," 18 Mar. 2019 But then something like a melody arrives, and the song begins to resolve itself into something clean, plaintive, not nervous at all. Jon Pareles, New York Times, "The Playlist: Pearl Jam Kicks Up a Fury, and 9 More New Songs," 16 Mar. 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.

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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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Statistics for plaintive

Last Updated

15 Sep 2019

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Time Traveler for plaintive

The first known use of plaintive was circa 1570

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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

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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 make a temporary encampment

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