\ 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 wailer (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 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 Instead of battling for an all-star berth in his final Little League season or attending Don Mattingly Bobblehead Night at Yankee Stadium, he’s been forced to spend the spring cooped up in a neighborhood where ambulance sirens have wailed nonstop. Brendan I. Koerner, Wired, "During Lockdown, Google Maps Gives My Son a Way Out," 19 May 2020 Virtually the only vehicles on the roads were wailing ambulances. Fares Akram And Josef Federman, chicagotribune.com, "As rockets rain down, Israel intensifies strikes throughout the Gaza Strip," 13 Nov. 2019 When not wailing, the engine settles below 1800 rpm at 75 mph, allowing for fuel economy approaching 30 mpg, about the same as before. Dave Vanderwerp, Car and Driver, "The Base 2020 Porsche 911 Is a Worthy Six-Figure Sports Car," 4 May 2020 When the nurses do take a break, a soundtrack of wailing sirens reminds them what lies ahead on their return. David Gonzalez, New York Times, "“The patients have panic in their eyes.”," 29 Apr. 2020 Cars, trains and ships sounded their horns and air raid sirens wailed. NBC News, "Police get creative to stay safe and keep order as virus spreads," 4 Apr. 2020 There are many problems with that line of analysis, beginning with the fact that notwithstanding the angst and wailing in Washington, the kingdom has not been lost. Kevin D. Williamson, National Review, "‘More Cowbell!’," 26 Mar. 2020 Recent Examples on the Web: Noun The wail of the shofar can sound like sobbing and also like a wake-up call, a dual meaning seems particularly prescient now, amidst a social justice revolution and a global pandemic. Carly Mallenbaum, USA TODAY, "A break with Rosh Hashanah tradition: Shofars are coming outside this Jewish New Year," 18 Sep. 2020 Hospitals began to fill and the plaintive wail of ambulances became a nighttime soundtrack. Azam Ahmed, New York Times, "In the Epicenter of Mexico’s Epicenter, Feeling Like a ‘Trapped Animal’," 18 Sep. 2020 They can be heard for hundreds of yards across the flat, paved lots, their shrill wail as much a part of the backdrop of a college football Saturday here as charcoal smoke and cornhole. Zach Osterman, The Indianapolis Star, "What we've lost in Big Ten country, in a fall without football," 5 Sep. 2020 The haunting, plaintive wail of New Guinean singing dogs once resounded throughout the island’s lush mountains and valleys. Michael Price, Science | AAAS, "New Guinea’s mysterious singing dogs found again in the wild," 31 Aug. 2020 The zoo said that sonograms had shown that this dog's unique wail is similar to the song of the humpback whale. Katie Hunt, CNN, "Rare 'singing' dog, thought to be extinct in wild for 50 years, still thrives," 31 Aug. 2020 Beirut was an assault on the senses: the crunch of glass under tyres, the wail of sirens, the acrid smell of smoke. The Economist, "Shattered Beirut after the blast: the crunch of glass, acrid smoke and stairs slick with blood," 5 Aug. 2020 Once the rail service is up and running, residents of the area also can expect to hear the rumble of more trains and the wail of more horns, the report says. Kurtis Alexander, SFChronicle.com, "Plan for high-speed rail rolls out for San Francisco to San Jose — but with little cash," 9 July 2020 Near the start, at least three officers are seen standing behind vehicles in the parking lot, with the wail of multiple sirens heard in the background. Tessa Duvall, The Courier-Journal, "Breonna Taylor shooting: New video shows Kenneth Walker's arrest as police draw weapons," 9 July 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

15 Sep 2020

Cite this Entry

“Wail.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/wail. Accessed 24 Oct. 2020.

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More Definitions for wail


How to pronounce wail (audio)

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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