\ˈwāl \
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 archaic : bewail

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



Definition of wail (Entry 2 of 2)

1 : the act or practice of wailing : loud lamentation

2a : 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

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Other Words from wail


wailer \ ˈwā-​lər \ noun

Synonyms & Antonyms for wail

Synonyms: Verb

beef, bellyache, bitch, bleat, carp, caterwaul, complain, crab, croak, fuss, gripe, grizzle, grouch, grouse, growl, grumble, grump, holler, inveigh, keen, kick, kvetch, maunder [chiefly British], moan, murmur, mutter, nag, repine, scream, squawk, squeal, whimper, whine, whinge [British], yammer, yawp (or yaup), yowl

Synonyms: Noun

groan, howl, keen, lament, lamentation, moan, plaint

Antonyms: Verb

crow, delight, rejoice

Antonyms: Noun

exultation, rejoicing

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Examples of wail in a Sentence


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.


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

Jackson gets help from a classical diva in Kathleen Battle, whose wordless wailing pours on the drama along with the sweeping strings. Chuck Arnold, Billboard, "Janet Jackson's 'janet.' Album Turns 25: Ranking All the Songs (Critic's Picks)," 18 May 2018 And miles away, in areas not under tornado warnings, residents questioned why sirens were wailing. Matt Campbell And Lynn Horsley, kansascity, "After 3 tornadoes strike KC area, residents question if sirens were used properly," 3 May 2018 But none of those strategies proved to be effective as images emerged of children in chain-link holding pens and as audio of some of them wailing for their mothers and fathers went viral. Matt Viser, BostonGlobe.com, "Trump reverses course after outcry over separating children from parents," 21 June 2018 Accounts of wailing children and forcible separations sparked a national and international outcry, and warnings from physicians about lasting psychological damage to children and parents. Maria Sacchetti, Washington Post, "Some children are returned to parents, but judge tells Trump officials to move faster," 10 July 2018 An interpretation of that photo made it on the cover of Time magazine, depicting the wailing girl looking up at Donald Trump, who loomed above her against a red backdrop. Jen Kirby, Vox, "Time’s crying girl photo controversy, explained," 22 June 2018 Sirens wailed overnight and throughout most of the day Saturday in southern Israel as waves of rockets and mortar shells were launched from Gaza amid the airstrikes. Aron Heller, BostonGlobe.com, "Israel exchanges intense fire with Hamas militants in Gaza," 14 July 2018 To be most effective, use interconnected alarms so that if one starts wailing, the rest join in. Carolyn L. Todd, SELF, "Emergency Responders Share 9 of the Biggest Death Traps in Your Home," 14 July 2018 Champ wails out in pain and writhes on the lawn as Mosher, who police say was drunk, realizes what happened. Josh Magness, kansascity, "Cops use stun gun on aggressive German Shepherd, video shows. Should it be euthanized? | The Kansas City Star," 19 May 2018

Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

Then, cue the ambulance wails as an EMT truck pulls up to the mansion, which, in itself, is one of Quinn's favorite scandal-upping tactic on UnReal. refinery29.com, "Making Sense Of The Ambulance Drama On The Bachelorette," 12 June 2018 The most important ingredient was Bennington’s wail and whisper, a volatile fuel to be processed by the others. Spencer Kornhaber, The Atlantic, "What Linkin Park Gave to Pop Music," 25 June 2018 No gunfight was heard; instead men can be heard talking before gunshots ring out, followed by the wail of the dying man. Vidhi Doshi, Washington Post, "138 people killed in 2 months in Bangladesh police crackdown on drug dealers," 12 July 2018 At one point, the soundtrack, which had earlier included a TV news snippet about children being separated from their families at the border, broke into the wail of a siren. New York Times, "New York Men’s Fashion Week: The Mixtape," 11 July 2018 The baby who was the product of that attack wails in his 8-year-old sister’s arms. Washington Post, "Silent pain: Rohingya rape survivors’ babies quietly emerge," 5 July 2018 With television and social media awash with images and wails of young children torn from parents, many Republicans have wanted to pass a narrower measure addressing those separations before Congress leaves at week’s end for its July 4 break. Alan Fram And Lisa Mascaro, BostonGlobe.com, "House rejects Republican immigration bill, ignoring Trump," 27 June 2018 Even a wet nose can't fix this broken heart, but some harmonica and a lot of dog wails will get you through the long night. Kat Bein, Billboard, "10 Songs About Dogs," 4 June 2018 As mourners lowered the body into the sandy ground, a wail echoed across ancient tombstones. Hana Salah, latimes.com, "A baby girl dies in the haze of Gaza," 16 May 2018

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 1

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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Statistics for wail

Last Updated

15 Nov 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for wail

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

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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 \
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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Comments on wail

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


something that serves to warn or remind

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