\ 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

Keep scrolling for more

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 Watching a woman wail rock & roll, albeit with male musicians behind her, Ravan’s life changed. David Browne, Rolling Stone, 1 July 2021 The strings lilt and wail until Zauner begins shredding, like the notes can’t come out of her fast enough. Justin Curto, Vulture, 4 June 2021 The hollow woo of the air raid siren began to wail as Moran Segal was at home late at night with her three daughters. NBC News, 15 May 2021 Israel is calling on 5,000 reserve soldiers to help bolster its defenses Tuesday as rockets continue to sail into its territory from Gaza, striking buildings and prompting warning sirens to wail in cities and towns throughout the region. Greg Norman, Fox News, 11 May 2021 Every time the hapless Blount exited his front door, a piercing alarm would wail. BostonGlobe.com, 9 May 2021 The impeccably orchestrated tire-changing sequence where high-rpm air guns wail away at five lug nuts per wheel can make or break a race. David Beard, Car and Driver, 5 May 2021 But imagine trying to plead your case before a judge while your phone cuts in and out, your kids wail in the background, or library patrons hiss shhhh. Eric Scigliano, The Atlantic, 13 Apr. 2021 Those left behind might fast alone in the mountains and wail and cut themselves. Sterling Holywhitemountain, The New Yorker, 29 Mar. 2021 Recent Examples on the Web: Noun Deserted cities that once echoed at night to the wail of ambulance sirens are stirring. Stephen Collinson, CNN, 25 May 2021 In Israel, at least two children were among those killed by Hamas rocket fire as the wail of sirens left residents from the border city of Ashkelon to bustling Tel Aviv scrambling for safety. NBC News, 20 May 2021 What that community looks like when the wail of 2020 sirens finally ebbs into a distant memory is up to artists like Hakim and Nathanson, and the early signs are promising. T.m. Brown, Rolling Stone, 22 Apr. 2021 Engine revs build instantly with an intoxicating wail. Robert Ross, Robb Report, 24 May 2021 Under the wail of passing trains, Portland’s Old Town residents and business owners swap stories of the latest neighborhood goings on. oregonlive, 2 May 2021 These are felt like fleeting pulses through the seat and steering wheel, signaled mostly by the semiquaver in the engine’s wail and the fact the car is going upstairs like a beautiful bat out of hell. Dan Neil, WSJ, 30 Apr. 2021 The sounds of water lapping on the rocks, seagulls squawking, and the wail of a loon mesmerize us. BostonGlobe.com, 14 Apr. 2021 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, 12 Apr. 2021

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.

See More

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

Keep scrolling for more

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

Statistics for wail

Last Updated

6 Jul 2021

Cite this Entry

“Wail.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/wail. Accessed 23 Jul. 2021.

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

Keep scrolling for more

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

More from Merriam-Webster on wail

Nglish: Translation of wail for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of wail for Arabic Speakers


Test Your Vocabulary

Difficult Spelling Words Quiz

  • alphabet pasta spelling help
  • Which is the correct spelling?
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?


Anagram puzzles meet word search.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

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