\ 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 wail (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 This is how the Japanese imperialists came to wail in fear of the guerrilla forces and their chukjibeop. Sooyoung Haft, Harpers Magazine, "Grounded in Truth," 5 Jan. 2021 Car alarms and sirens wail as a police dispatch voice calls for all available personnel and people stumble through downtown streets littered with glass. CBS News, "Dramatic video captures officers comment on RV warning moments before Nashville bombing: "Like something out of a movie"," 29 Dec. 2020 In several of the videos, reviewed and verified by CNN, some of the protesters can be seen carrying bodies, the flashlights on their phones the only thing illuminating the darkness as the sound of ambulance sirens wail in the background. Stephanie Busari, CNN, "How a bloody night of bullets and brutality quashed a young protest movement," 18 Nov. 2020 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 Recent Examples on the Web: Noun Bemoaning a lover who can't quite get on the same page as her, Danielle's voice is a mixture of determination and yearning, while Alana's bright, clean guitar riff backs her up with a lovelorn wail after each chorus. Billboard Staff, Billboard, "The 25 Best Rock Songs of 2020: Staff Picks," 15 Dec. 2020 This performance is full of emotion and storytelling but also just lets the dude wail (plus, all the points for a perfect outfit choice). Maggie Fremont, EW.com, "The Voice recap: The Top 5 sing for the title," 15 Dec. 2020 That turned out to be in the middle of the summer, when the streets echoed with the collective wail of outrage and grief over the decimation of black bodies. WSJ, "Leaders in Literature, Politics and Arts Share Their Favorite Books of 2020," 11 Dec. 2020 Lucy sat silent, as though more surprised than distressed by this announcement, but Miss Candace broke in with a wail of sympathy. Edith Wharton, The Atlantic, "A Granted Prayer," 9 Nov. 2020 The wail of traditionalists – and a bloc of NL owners who shared their viewpoint – has kept the DH out of the NL long after it was approved in the AL before the 1973 season. Gabe Lacques, USA TODAY, "Rays-Dodgers World Series showcases inevitability of universal DH: 'It is very normal now'," 27 Oct. 2020 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

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

19 Jan 2021

Cite this Entry

“Wail.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/wail. Accessed 21 Jan. 2021.

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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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