vain

adjective
\ ˈvān How to pronounce vain (audio) \

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
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)

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Other Words from vain

vainly adverb
vainness \ ˈvān-​nəs How to pronounce vainness (audio) \ noun

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.
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Recent Examples on the Web

Don’t be vain, Audra, because playing Frankie is not about her being beautiful. New York Times, "How Audra McDonald and Michael Shannon Got Intimate," 26 June 2019 Anthony Michael Harvey delights with a bright performance as the vain juvenile lead, Billy Lawlor. nola.com, "Summer Lyric presents tap-happy love song to Broadway with ‘42nd Street’," 19 June 2019 The iconic designer is characterized as being as vain and belligerent as the peacocks that strutted around his property. Sam Sacks, WSJ, "Fiction: The Flavor of the American Century," 15 Feb. 2019 There’s no clear line between Trump’s dishonesty and his sincere lack of information, or between his tendency to engage in vain but pointless boasting and his alarming efforts to overturn legitimate election results. Matthew Yglesias, Vox, "Trump’s latest interview shows a president who’s in way over his head," 15 Nov. 2018 Like so many women, I was plagued by a vain and longstanding paranoia about what people might think of me. Jessica Berger Gross, Longreads, "Gone Gray," 10 July 2018 In Ocean's 8, Hathaway's character is vain, self-indulgent, and narcissistic. Morgan Baila, refinery29.com, "We Were Right About Anne Hathaway," 7 June 2018 The trade gap with China remains unresolved, while Trump has made big trade concessions to Beijing in the vain hope that the Chinese would deliver North Korea. Trudy Rubin, Philly.com, "Trump thinks his personal relationships with dictators will save the world. He's wrong | Trudy Rubin," 15 June 2018 But those efforts were in vain as La Celeste ran out of steam and fell at the penultimate hurdle. SI.com, "World Cup Countdown: 6 Days to Go - Reliving the Fine Career of 2010 Golden Ball Winner Diego Forlan," 8 June 2018

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.

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First Known Use of vain

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 3

History and Etymology for 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 wane entry 1

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Learn More about vain

Dictionary Entries near vain

Vai

Vaibhasika

vail

vain

vainglorious

vainglory

vair

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Last Updated

13 Jul 2019

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Time Traveler for vain

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

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More Definitions for vain

vain

adjective

English Language Learners Definition of vain

: too proud of your own appearance, abilities, achievements, etc.
: having no success : not producing a desired result

vain

adjective
\ ˈvān How to pronounce vain (audio) \
vainer; vainest

Kids Definition of vain

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
in vain
1 : without success I searched in vain for my key.
2 : in an unholy way

Other Words from vain

vainly adverb I looked at the others, searching vainly for a sympathetic face. — Gail Carson Levine, Ella Enchanted

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More from Merriam-Webster on vain

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for vain

Spanish Central: Translation of vain

Nglish: Translation of vain for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of vain for Arabic Speakers

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