\ 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 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 How to pronounce wailer (audio) \ 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

Sopranos Ah Young Hong and Kiera Duffy wept and wailed. Mark Swed, latimes.com, "This year's Ojai Music Festival was bright, and dark, and very very hot," 12 June 2018 While some cities burned, Boston danced and sang and wailed along with James Brown. Kevin Cullen, BostonGlobe.com, "Blowing the horn for freedom," 5 Apr. 2018 Over the cries of wailing children, the two women pull each other's hair and grab at the other's limbs until Melina flies down a flight of steps. Julie Kosin, Harper's BAZAAR, "My Brilliant Friend Producer Breaks Down the Violence of Episode 1," 19 Nov. 2018 When The Chainsmokers kicked off their bass-heavy headline Ultra set with a blitzkrieg of wailing sirens and screeching alarm synths, astute listeners recognized the hallmarks of hard trap flag bearer SAYMYNAME. Billboard Staff, Billboard, "Billboard Dance's Ones to Watch: April 2018," 4 Apr. 2018 The cold brew was welcome refreshment amid the crowds, warm morning sun and wailing children at SeaWorld Orlando on Friday. Gabrielle Russon, OrlandoSentinel.com, "Cheers! SeaWorld visitors enjoy free beer, a return of a longtime tradition," 18 May 2018 In the snaps, Barker can be seen wailing on the drums in his signature fashion wearing a black beanie and matching sleeveless T-shirt. Mackenzie Cummings-grady, Billboard, "Blink-182 Share Snapchats From The Studio, Confirming New Music Is On The Way: 'Day One'," 24 Apr. 2018 Over the sound of patriotic marches and firetrucks sporadically wailing their engines, Greg Stilin gathers guitars and sound equipment to prepare for the party. Jennifer Walter, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Star-spangled traditions: Milwaukee communities come together for July 4th festivities," 4 July 2018 The woman’s daughter, a young child, began wailing. Juan Montes, WSJ, "Fleeing Poverty and Violence, Central American Women Explain Why They Join Caravans," 4 Dec. 2018

Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

The earthquake knocked out power and telecommunication towers, meaning sirens didn’t wail and alerts didn’t light up mobile phones. Andi Jatmiko, The Seattle Times, "Indonesia expert warned of quake, gov’t mapped risk areas," 9 Oct. 2018 If something trips the system and nobody enters the disarming code in time, a built-in alarm wails. David Pierce, WSJ, "Home Security Systems That Are Fast, Easy and Totally Not Creepy," 26 Aug. 2018 Juice WRLD sings in his now-signature thin wail, typically put in service of far lighter subject matter. Jon Pareles, New York Times, "The Playlist: Paul McCartney’s Smooth Tunes, and 13 More New Songs," 22 June 2018 Why aren’t the recorded wails of her mother and the tears of her father enough for the whole world to be demanding justice right now? Rachel Elizabeth Cargle, Harper's BAZAAR, "When Feminism Is White Supremacy in Heels," 16 Aug. 2018 The overlap created new drones, rhythms, rumbles and wails, with the whole ensemble gradually increasing the sound to a nearly unbearable volume and intensity. Heidi Waleson, WSJ, "‘The Force of Things’ Review: Music Made Visible," 7 Aug. 2018 An electric guitar wails, and a keyboard chimes right in. Kristina Stewart Ward, ELLE Decor, "Gilles Mendel's Fashion-Forward Home," 5 Jan. 2010 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

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

22 Mar 2019

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 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

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with wail

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for wail

Spanish Central: Translation of wail

Nglish: Translation of wail for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of wail for Arabic Speakers

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).


to boil down or concentrate

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