\ 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

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

Visit the Thesaurus for More 

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 See More
Recent Examples on the Web: Verb But despite the staff’s best effort, Ms. Kanbar’s 2-year-old son started to cry and then wail as the registration went on, which in turn caused his older sister to join in before the staff could bring cookies to to console them. New York Times, 12 Apr. 2022 One of the visitors reached into her bag, pulled out the phone and let the siren wail in the halls of Congress. Lisa Mascaro, ajc, 31 Mar. 2022 The idea of concealing a vegetable in a meal has, of course, been around since the first toddler learned to wail at a plate of limp broccoli. Ella Quittner, Los Angeles Times, 4 Mar. 2022 In the background, several booms could be heard and an air raid siren began to wail. Washington Post, 5 Mar. 2022 Alyssa would wail in pain from her red burning feet or whimper quietly. Carolyn Kaster, Fortune, 14 Mar. 2022 The sirens are now slated to wail by the end of 2024, said Zamora. Heather Knight, San Francisco Chronicle, 26 Jan. 2022 When Ruby’s son, Job, gets in trouble after daring to vote, the women are left, as usual, to wail and sing. New York Times, 18 Nov. 2021 In the Bronx, Harlem and Queens, ambulances and police sirens wail in the background as kids run down sidewalks and gather at the park to play basketball. USA Today, 16 Oct. 2021 Recent Examples on the Web: Noun Ukrainian students studying online with DePaul take shelter as air raid sirens wail. Karen Ann Cullotta, Chicago Tribune, 6 May 2022 Each wail reflected the anguish, anger and helplessness felt throughout the crowd at the funeral for a young man whose life was cut short. Sarah Nelson, The Indianapolis Star, 30 Mar. 2022 Many lined up for hours outside gas stations and supermarkets, mostly ignoring the occasional wail of air raid sirens. Los Angeles Times, 28 Feb. 2022 The wail of the siren ripped into our ears and propelled us onto the floor. Kate Tsurkan, The New Yorker, 30 Mar. 2022 In much of the country, the wail of air raid sirens has become ubiquitous as many Ukrainians seek (ph) out a subterranean existence. ABC News, 6 Mar. 2022 But just hearing her wail had to have been difficult for the rest of you, right? Brian Davids, The Hollywood Reporter, 17 Jan. 2022 The audience leapt to its feet midway through the song, and stayed there through her final, wrenching, hand-thrust-in-the-air, wail. New York Times, 26 Sep. 2021 The wail of the air raid siren sent her into a panic. Los Angeles Times, 14 Mar. 2022 See More

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.

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

Learn More About wail

Time Traveler for wail

Time Traveler

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

See more words from the same century

Dictionary Entries Near wail




See More Nearby Entries 

Statistics for wail

Last Updated

7 May 2022

Cite this Entry

“Wail.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/wail. Accessed 20 May. 2022.

Style: MLA
MLACheck Mark Icon ChicagoCheck Mark Icon APACheck Mark Icon Merriam-WebsterCheck Mark Icon

More Definitions for wail


\ 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

More from Merriam-Webster on wail

Nglish: Translation of wail for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of wail for Arabic Speakers


Test Your Vocabulary

Eponyms: Words Named After People

True or False

Test your knowledge - and maybe learn something along the way.

Universal Daily Crossword

A daily challenge for crossword fanatics.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!