\ 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 Online videos circulating on Iranian social media seemed to show a fire at the depot as sirens wailed in the background. Fox News, "At least 1 dead in Iran protests over gas prices," 17 Nov. 2019 And have plenty of good callers wailing away at sky-high migrators. Joe Genzel, Outdoor Life, "5 Keys to Killing Reverse Migration Mallards and Geese," 16 Dec. 2019 As one of his children, unfed, wailed the family waited for more than 10 hours before a passing rescue boat spotted them. Abdi Guled, Twin Cities, "Somalia struggles after worst flooding in recent history," 14 Nov. 2019 As the music wailed on into the early morning hours, more than 100 campfires — fed by fence-posts and any other wood the young people could lay their hands on — flickered around the hillside that formed a natural amphitheater for the festival. New York Times, "Woodstock 1969: A Story Vastly Bigger Than Editors Realized," 9 Aug. 2019 But Iraqi pilgrims will also wail for the 110 people, all Shia, whom their government has killed during recent protests. The Economist, "Streets of fury Iraq’s government seems powerless to halt protests in the Shia heartland," 10 Oct. 2019 Here, Miss Wiggles is still swiveling, Mays’ guitar is still wailing and the applause never stops. Vincent T. Davis, ExpressNews.com, "Legendary blues guitarist Curley Mays thrilled crowds in San Antonio and hot spots across the country," 16 Dec. 2019 No one who has attended past Schumacher-Weldon sessions would have been surprised by the power and drive of this music, Schumacher’s gravelly baritone counterbalanced by Weldon’s wailing tenor. Howard Reich, chicagotribune.com, "Opera and jazz reviews: Radvanovsky excels in Lyric’s ‘Three Queens’; rambunctious saxes at Green Mill," 27 Nov. 2019 Larry Scott, the commissioner of the Pac-12 whose statement (which Scott didn’t even have the guts to sign) on the new law also wailed about how this would negatively affect nonrevenue athletes, makes more than $5 million annually. John Feinstein, The Denver Post, "Guest Commentary: California was right to pass the Fair Pay to Play Act. Don’t buy into the NCAA’s propaganda.," 3 Oct. 2019 Recent Examples on the Web: Noun The main noises were the crackling of the blankets and the occasional laugh or wail of a small child. John C. Moritz/usa Today Network Austin Bureau, USA TODAY, "Mike Pence got a first-hand look at border detention facilities in McAllen and Donna, Texas. What he saw," 13 July 2019 In that second episode, show creator and director Ava DuVernay shows the court verdicts read aloud as the five young actors sob and a trumpet wails. Mark Kennedy, Twin Cities, "Top 12 TV moments from 2019," 13 Dec. 2019 Morris is a rising superstar of rare nuance; Carlile is a literary-spirited outsider with a fierce wail; Shires uses Dolly Parton inflections for sneakily devastating narratives; Hemby, the least known of the members, has written five No. Spencer Kornhaber, The Atlantic, "The Highwomen’s Joyful Country-Music Rewrites," 6 Sep. 2019 My 14-month-old couldn’t pull himself out of a tearful spell, and after about an hour of trying to calm him, the sound of his wails through everyone’s special occasion had taken its toll on both of us. Beth Spotswood, SFChronicle.com, "Perceptive parents give peace a chance," 6 Jan. 2020 The four-banger let out a full-throated wail over 5,600 rpms that would wake the dead. Tribune News Service, cleveland, "The racy Honda Civic Si just wants to have fun (auto review)," 7 Dec. 2019 In one photo, all three of the Christina on the Coast and Flip or Flop star’s children pose underneath the Christmas tree as Taylor snuggles up to her baby brother, who was busy letting out a wail. Jen Juneau, PEOPLE.com, "Christina Anstead’s 12-Week-Old Son Can't Keep His Eyes Open in Family Thanksgiving Snaps," 29 Nov. 2019 Shahid remembers visiting her there, among the wails and curses of the patients. Ellen Barry, New York Times, "The Jungle Prince of Delhi," 22 Nov. 2019 The wails of pain of those who loved 20-year-old Murtada al-Muhamadawi are soul crushing. Arwa Damon, CNN, "Iraqi protesters say they have videos of government atrocities. An internet blackout is stopping the world from seeing them," 9 Oct. 2019

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

8 Feb 2020

Cite this Entry

“Wail.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/wailer. Accessed 17 Feb. 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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More from Merriam-Webster on wail

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for wail

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with wail

Spanish Central: Translation of wail

Nglish: Translation of wail for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of wail for Arabic Speakers

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