: having or showing undue or excessive pride in one's appearance or achievements : conceited
: marked by futility or ineffectualness : unsuccessful, useless
vain efforts to escape
: having no real value : idle, worthless
vain pretensions
archaic : foolish, silly
vainly adverb
vainness noun
in vain
: to no end : without success or result
her efforts were in vain
: in an irreverent or blasphemous manner
Being a religion writer, I have always tried to avoid using the Lord's name in vain. I have not always succeeded.Don Lattin
see also take in vain
Choose the Right Synonym for vain

futile, vain, fruitless mean producing no result.

futile may connote completeness of failure or unwisdom of undertaking.

resistance had proved so futile that surrender was the only choice left

vain usually implies simple failure to achieve a desired result.

a vain attempt to get the car started

fruitless comes close to vain but often suggests long and arduous effort or severe disappointment.

fruitless efforts to obtain a lasting peace

Examples of vain in a Sentence

For a half a century, scholars have searched in vain for the source of the jade that the early civilizations of the Americas prized above all else and fashioned into precious objects of worship, trade and adornment. William J. Broad, New York Times, 22 May 2002
… the miseries of people's lives ought not to be exploited ad libitum in the furtherance of our profits or our careers, and in the vain conviction that we understand everything. Richard Taruskin, New Republic, 24 Dec. 2001
It is in vain to say human beings ought to be satisfied with tranquillity: they must have action; and they will make it if they cannot find it. Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre, 1847
Vanity and pride are different things, though the words are often used synonymously. A person may be proud without being vain. Pride relates more to our opinion of ourselves, vanity to what we would have others think of us. Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice, 1813
Where words are scarce, they are seldom spent in vain William Shakespeare, King Richard the Second, 1596
She is very vain about her appearance. He is the vainest man I know. A vain effort to quell the public's fears only made matters worse. Volunteers searched the area in the vain hope of finding clues. See More
Recent Examples on the Web But his efforts were not in vain, and the comedian who stands just over 5 feet tall, has certainly achieved a larger-than-life status. Rayna Reid Rayford, Essence, 22 Nov. 2023 Despite years of trying in vain, the pair had yet to have a child. Nathan Smith, Smithsonian Magazine, 21 Nov. 2023 The United States should therefore use the Middle East’s new order to cage Iran’s ambitions, instead of trying in vain to create an anti-Tehran alliance. Maria Fantappie and Vali Nasr, Foreign Affairs, 20 Nov. 2023 Asher asked, as squad members tried in vain to call in military reinforcements. Loveday Morris, Washington Post, 27 Oct. 2023 The Spanish government appealed to the Western democracies to sell it arms, but in vain. Adam Hochschild, Smithsonian Magazine, 26 Oct. 2023 Her sailors tried in vain to keep the Yorktown afloat, but the ship sank on the morning of June 7, killing 141 officers and crew. Christine Rousselle, Fox News, 6 Oct. 2023 Any effort to award a Nobel to Meitner posthumously would be in vain. Katrina Miller, New York Times, 2 Oct. 2023 Following the shooting, the driver of the car the victim was in sped off and headed north, traveling about four miles and trying in vain to find a hospital before pulling over at Park and El Cajon boulevards in University Heights. City News Service, San Diego Union-Tribune, 27 Sep. 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'vain.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


Middle English veyn "empty, futile, groundless, foolish, excessively proud," borrowed from Anglo-French vain, vein, going back to Latin vānus "lacking content, empty, illusory, marked by foolish or empty pride" — more at wane entry 1

First Known Use

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 3

Time Traveler
The first known use of vain was in the 14th century

Dictionary Entries Near vain

Cite this Entry

“Vain.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/vain. Accessed 30 Nov. 2023.

Kids Definition


: having no success : useless
a vain attempt to escape
: proud of one's looks or abilities
vainly adverb
vainness noun

More from Merriam-Webster on vain

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