adjective \ˈvān\

Definition of vain

  1. 1 :  having no real value :  idle, worthless vain pretensions

  2. 2 :  marked by futility or ineffectualness :  unsuccessful, useless vain efforts to escape

  3. 3 archaic :  foolish, silly

  4. 4 :  having or showing undue or excessive pride in one's appearance or achievements :  conceited




play \ˈvān-nəs\ noun

in vain

  1. 1 :  to no end :  without success or result her efforts were in vain

  2. 2 :  in an irreverent or blasphemous manner you shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain — Deuteronomy 5:11 (RSV)

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. Broad, New York Times, 22 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 Taruskin, New Republic, 24 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 Brontë, Jane Eyre, 1847

  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 Austen, Pride and Prejudice, 1813

  5. Where words are scarce, they are seldom spent in vain … —William Shakespeare, King Richard the Second, 1596

  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.

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

First Known Use: 14th century

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, nugatory, otiose, idle, empty, hollow mean being without worth or significance. vain implies either absolute or relative absence of value vain promises. nugatory suggests triviality or insignificance a monarch with nugatory powers. otiose suggests that something serves no purpose and is either an encumbrance or a superfluity a film without a single otiose scene. idle suggests being incapable of worthwhile use or effect idle speculations. empty and hollow suggest a deceiving lack of real substance or soundness or genuineness an empty attempt at reconciliation a hollow victory.

VAIN Defined for English Language Learners


adjective \ˈvān\

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




  1. 1 :  having no success He made a vain effort to escape.

  2. 2 :  having or showing the attitude of a person who thinks too highly of his or her looks or abilities


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

in vain

  1. 1 :  without success I searched in vain for my key.

  2. 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.

Seen and Heard

What made you want to look up vain? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


a brief usually trivial fact

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