\ ˈwāl How to pronounce wail (audio) \
wailed; wailing; wails

Definition of wail

 (Entry 1 of 2)

intransitive verb

1 : to express sorrow audibly : lament
2 : to make a sound suggestive of a mournful cry
3 : to express dissatisfaction plaintively : complain

transitive verb

1 : to say or express plaintively wailed that her cake was ruined
2 archaic : bewail



Definition of wail (Entry 2 of 2)

1a : a usually prolonged cry or sound expressing grief or pain
b : a sound suggestive of wailing the wail of an air-raid siren
c : a querulous expression of grievance : complaint
2 : the act or practice of wailing : loud lamentation

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Other Words from wail


wailer \ ˈwā-​lər How to pronounce wail (audio) \ noun

Synonyms & Antonyms for wail

Synonyms: Verb

Synonyms: Noun

Antonyms: Verb

Antonyms: Noun

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Examples of wail in a Sentence

Verb The child started wailing after she stumbled and fell. A saxophone wailed in the background. “No! I don't want to go!” he wailed. She wailed that the vacation was ruined. Noun the wail of a siren a prolonged wail arose from every corner of the city as the victims of the earthquake were unearthed from the rubble
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Recent Examples on the Web: Verb Those left behind might fast alone in the mountains and wail and cut themselves. Sterling Holywhitemountain, The New Yorker, "Featherweight," 29 Mar. 2021 Soon, Yeimi Sofía’s sister, Nicol, 11, began to wail. New York Times, "Children Trapped by Colombia’s War, Five Years After Peace Deal," 27 Mar. 2021 Crenshaw loosens his tie, removes his shirt, and parachutes into Georgia like a comic-book superhero, landing on the car of some unsuspecting antifa members, who wail in terror. John Patrick Leary, The New Republic, "The Twisted “Patriotism” of the Far Right," 5 Feb. 2021 This is how the Japanese imperialists came to wail in fear of the guerrilla forces and their chukjibeop. Sooyoung Haft, Harpers Magazine, "Grounded in Truth," 5 Jan. 2021 Car alarms and sirens wail as a police dispatch voice calls for all available personnel and people stumble through downtown streets littered with glass. CBS News, "Dramatic video captures officers comment on RV warning moments before Nashville bombing: "Like something out of a movie"," 29 Dec. 2020 In several of the videos, reviewed and verified by CNN, some of the protesters can be seen carrying bodies, the flashlights on their phones the only thing illuminating the darkness as the sound of ambulance sirens wail in the background. Stephanie Busari, CNN, "How a bloody night of bullets and brutality quashed a young protest movement," 18 Nov. 2020 On that day, three minutes into the meeting the local lawnmowers will snarl, grunt and wail in unison right through your three-hour meeting. Write to me. Maria Shine Stewart, cleveland, "Ten ways videoconferencing mirrors life: Sun Messages," 7 Sep. 2020 Both Jemmas widen their eyes in mock terror as a banshee-screech of audio feedback begins to wail. Elizabeth Horkley, The Atlantic, "The First Great ‘Quarantine Horror’ Movie Has Arrived," 19 Aug. 2020 Recent Examples on the Web: Noun With Josh’s tsunami wail and Jake’s guitar heroics out front, the band has been celebrated for helping to restore a degree of prominence for rock in the popular music mainstream. Gary Graff, cleveland, "Greta Van Fleet looks to capture rock magic again with ‘The Battle at Garden’s Gate’," 12 Apr. 2021 Press on and the gritty intake wail at 8000 rpm reaches a lovely but loud 93 decibels. Tony Quiroga, Car and Driver, "Tested: 2021 Porsche Cayman GT4 PDK Will Set You Free," 19 Mar. 2021 Nearby, a wail of anguish went up from another cluster of people waiting for any news. New York Times, "8 People Killed in Atlanta-Area Massage Parlor Shootings," 17 Mar. 2021 Then vocalist Robin Roy does his best impression of Bruce Dickinson’s air-raid siren wail. Kory Grow, Rolling Stone, "What If Iron Maiden Wrote Metallica’s ‘Enter Sandman’?," 3 Mar. 2021 These days, the wail of ambulance sirens never seems to fall silent. New York Times, "‘We Are Forced to Live in These Conditions’: In Los Angeles, Virus Ravages Overcrowded Homes," 23 Jan. 2021 Bemoaning a lover who can't quite get on the same page as her, Danielle's voice is a mixture of determination and yearning, while Alana's bright, clean guitar riff backs her up with a lovelorn wail after each chorus. Billboard Staff, Billboard, "The 25 Best Rock Songs of 2020: Staff Picks," 15 Dec. 2020 This performance is full of emotion and storytelling but also just lets the dude wail (plus, all the points for a perfect outfit choice). Maggie Fremont, EW.com, "The Voice recap: The Top 5 sing for the title," 15 Dec. 2020 That turned out to be in the middle of the summer, when the streets echoed with the collective wail of outrage and grief over the decimation of black bodies. WSJ, "Leaders in Literature, Politics and Arts Share Their Favorite Books of 2020," 11 Dec. 2020

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'wail.' 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 wail


14th century, in the meaning defined at intransitive sense 1


15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 2

History and Etymology for wail


Middle English weilen, waylen, perhaps modification (influenced by Middle English weilawei wellaway) of Old Norse væla, vāla to wail; akin to Old Norse vei woe — more at woe

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Time Traveler for wail

Time Traveler

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

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Statistics for wail

Last Updated

1 Apr 2021

Cite this Entry

“Wail.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/wail. Accessed 18 Apr. 2021.

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More Definitions for wail



English Language Learners Definition of wail

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: to make a loud, long cry of sadness or pain
: to make a long, high sound
: to complain in a loud voice



English Language Learners Definition of wail (Entry 2 of 2)

: a long cry of sadness or pain
: a long, high sound


\ ˈwāl How to pronounce wail (audio) \
wailed; wailing

Kids Definition of wail

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 : to make a long, loud cry of pain or grief
2 : to complain with a loud voice



Kids Definition of wail (Entry 2 of 2)

: a long cry of grief or pain

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More from Merriam-Webster on wail

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for wail

Nglish: Translation of wail for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of wail for Arabic Speakers

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