adjective \ ˈvān \
|Updated on: 10 Aug 2018

Definition of vain

1 : having or showing undue or excessive pride in one's appearance or achievements : conceited
2 : marked by futility or ineffectualness : unsuccessful, useless
  • vain efforts to escape
3 : having no real value : idle, worthless
  • vain pretensions
4 archaic : foolish, silly




play \ˈvān-nəs\ noun
in vain
1 : to no end : without success or result
  • her efforts were in vain
2 : in an irreverent or blasphemous manner
  • you shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain
  • —Deuteronomy 5:11 (Revised Standard Version)

Examples of vain in a Sentence

  1. 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. BroadNew York Times22 May 2002
  2. … 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 TaruskinNew Republic24 Dec. 2001
  3. 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 BrontëJane Eyre1847
  4. 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 AustenPride and Prejudice1813
  5. Where words are scarce, they are seldom spent in vain —William ShakespeareKing Richard the Second1596
  6. She is very vain about her appearance.

  7. He is the vainest man I know.

  8. A vain effort to quell the public's fears only made matters worse.

  9. Volunteers searched the area in the vain hope of finding clues.

Recent Examples of vain from the Web

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'vain.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

Origin and Etymology of vain

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 1wane

Synonym Discussion of 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

VAIN Defined for English Language Learners


Definition of vain for English Language Learners

  • : too proud of your own appearance, abilities, achievements, etc.

  • : having no success : not producing a desired result

VAIN Defined for Kids


adjective \ ˈvān \

Definition of vain for Students

vainer; vainest
1 : having no success
  • He made a vain effort to escape.
2 : having or showing the attitude of a person who thinks too highly of his or her looks or abilities


  • I looked at the others, searching vainly for a sympathetic face.
  • —Gail Carson Levine, Ella Enchanted
in vain
1 : without success
  • I searched in vain for my key.
2 : in an unholy way

Headscratcher for vain

Vain, vane, and vein sound the same but have different spellings and meanings. Someone who is vain is conceited. A vane, as in weather vane, is a device that shows which direction the wind is blowing. A vein is a small tube in the body that carries blood to the heart.

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