\ 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 vain (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 Videos published online show vastly outnumbered Capitol Police officers trying in vain to stop surging rioters, though other videos show officers not moving to stop rioters in the building. Mike Catalini And Nomaan Merchant, Anchorage Daily News, "‘Brian did his job’: Family remembers fallen Capitol officer," 9 Jan. 2021 Troopers in Florida who are trying to solve more and more highway shootings search — usually in vain — for evidence from license plate readers, surveillance cameras and gunshot detectors, records show. Megan O'matz, sun-sentinel.com, "Cameras on I-95 erase evidence, let shooters go free," 31 Dec. 2020 Joe Biden, the incoming president, has promised to push for measures that health specialists have championed in vain for months. Ed Yong, The Atlantic, "Pandemic Year Two," 29 Dec. 2020 Trump administration officials have also been harshly critical of the Cuban government’s support for Venezuela’s socialist leader, Nicolás Maduro, whom Mr. Trump tried for years in vain to dislodge from power. New York Times, "Pompeo Weighs Plan to Place Cuba on U.S. Terrorism Sponsor List," 29 Dec. 2020 Trump administration officials have also been harshly critical of the Cuban government’s support for Venezuela’s socialist leader, Nicolás Maduro, whom Trump tried for years in vain to dislodge from power. Michael Crowley, BostonGlobe.com, "Pompeo weighs plan to place Cuba on US terrorism sponsor list," 29 Dec. 2020 And a vain tyrant destroying his realm with incompetence carries the satirical whiff of a certain Very Stable Genius. Washington Post, "Michel Faber’s ‘D’ is a quirky adventure for readers young and old," 14 Dec. 2020 For much of their existence, consumer-grade ring lights were dismissed as intolerably vain, and most famously embraced by people who relished that vanity. Amanda Mull, The Atlantic, "Americans Got Tired of Looking Bad on Zoom," 19 Nov. 2020 Nikolaj crawls home after a Rabelaisian binge, makes it to the bedroom, and tries, in vain, to use a baby monitor as a Breathalyzer; Peter, for his part, advises a fretful pupil to soothe his nerves with a drink before an oral exam. Anthony Lane, The New Yorker, "Planned Alcoholism in “Another Round” and Weaponized Camp in “The Prom”," 11 Dec. 2020

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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Time Traveler for vain

Time Traveler

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

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Statistics for vain

Last Updated

14 Jan 2021

Cite this Entry

“Vain.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/vain. Accessed 19 Jan. 2021.

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More Definitions for vain

How to pronounce vain (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of vain

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