\ 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

Youngblood, who wore a t-shirt with a picture of her son, wailed uncontrollably and had to go into her home to regain her composure at the end of the vigil. Howard Koplowitz | Hkoplowitz@al.com, al, "'He had the potential to go far’: Family, friends remember teen shot and killed in Brighton," 2 Aug. 2019 Amid wailing sirens, residents and tourists alike will have to figure out what to do. AZCentral.com, "Amid winding mountain roads, a village pushes back its encroaching fire threat," 23 July 2019 One woman wailed immediately after leaving the courtroom after the hearing ended. oregonlive.com, "Woman accused of killing Portland State University basketball player brother, shooting 2 other relatives, appears in court," 5 Aug. 2019 Pennebaker’s camera was there at the dawn of the American rock festival, documenting Janis Joplin wailing, Jimi Hendrix blazing and Otis Redding testifying at 1967’s Monterey Pop Festival. Eric Harvey, Los Angeles Times, "Remember rock stars? With Bob Dylan and ‘Dont Look Back,’ D.A. Pennebaker invented the ideal," 4 Aug. 2019 Booth asks Clem to change his car tire, and when Clem refuses, Booth wails on him—hard, fast, drawing blood. Spencer Kornhaber, The Atlantic, "Quentin Tarantino’s Ultimate Statement on Movie Violence," 2 Aug. 2019 Wreath laying ceremonies by state leaders are planned and sirens will wail at 5 p.m. (1500 GMT), the hour when the rising began. Washington Post, "Ex-nurse recalls failed 1944 Polish revolt against Germans," 1 Aug. 2019 Sirens were constantly wailing as the wounded were evacuated on stretchers to nearby ambulances. Greg Norman, Fox News, "Dozens of Palestinians dead in border clashes with Israel as embassy opens in Jerusalem," 14 May 2018 Nurses tended to patients outside in the dark as sirens wailed. Paul Vercammen, CNN, "Patients wheeled out of a hospital, some still hooked to IVs, after earthquake hits," 6 July 2019

Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

No wails or cries pierced the air in the church; mourners quietly sniffled and wiped away gentle tears in pews. Emma Keith, Detroit Free Press, "Detroit community mourns and remembers Emma Hernandez, 9, at funeral," 24 Aug. 2019 The fact that Mother Jones herself isn’t currently haunting the offices of that magazine with a blood-curdling wail after a take that bad is proof that ghosts don’t exist. Luke O'neil, Longreads, "The Wind Sometimes Feels in Error," 29 July 2019 That makes certain sense in an outdoor setting where the dialogue sometimes has to compete with the wail of ambulances, the clatter of helicopters, and the chiming of church bells. Don Aucoin, BostonGlobe.com, "On the Common, a whimsical ‘Cymbeline’," 25 July 2019 Speaking over the wail of a police siren, a grinding organ and cars swishing past the sculpture, art historian Alberto Híjar said the anti-monuments are a way of occupying public space more permanently than with protest marches. Washington Post, "Mexico ‘anti-monuments’ recall dark moments, demand justice," 30 June 2019 Those crying remove themselves from the circle, their staccato wails fill the small cemetery like a bird song. Nina Strochlic, National Geographic, "Mourning refugees risk a war zone to bury their dead at home," 20 June 2019 That was the overwhelming reaction/wail from its riders during a preview of the energetic thrill ride on Tuesday afternoon. Dewayne Bevil, orlandosentinel.com, "Universal Orlando: New roller coaster features Hagrid, creatures, high-speed stretches, surprises," 11 June 2019 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 greatest of stakes—families separated, kids living in shelters, the wails, the suffering, the entirely preventable tragedy of it all—chafed awkwardly against the silliest of them. Megan Garber, The Atlantic, "Schrödinger’s Coat," 22 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

6 Sep 2019

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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

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recurring in steady succession

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