wist·​ful ˈwist-fəl How to pronounce wistful (audio)
: full of yearning or desire tinged with melancholy
also : inspiring such yearning
a wistful memoir
: musingly sad : pensive
a wistful glance
wistfully adverb
wistfulness noun

Did you know?

Wistful Has a Wishful History

We see you there, dear reader, gazing silently up at the moon, heart aching to know the history of wistful, as if it could be divined on the lunar surface. And we’d like to ease your melancholy by telling you that the knowledge you seek—nay, pine for—is closer at hand. But the etymology of wistful, while intriguing, is not entirely clear. It’s thought that the word is a combination of wistly, a now-obsolete word meaning “intently” and, perhaps, the similar-sounding wishful. Wistly, in turn, may have come from whistly, an old term meaning “silently” or “quietly.” What’s more certain is that our modern wistful is a great word to describe someone full of pensive yearning, or something inspiring such yearning.

Examples of wistful in a Sentence

She was wistful for a moment, then asked, “Do you remember the old playground?”. He had a wistful look on his face.
Recent Examples on the Web My mom fobbed me off with wistful trips around the city. Eren Orbey, The New Yorker, 20 Nov. 2023 The rest of the supporting cast also performs with energy, but Pérez is, appropriately, the uncontested star: wistful, tender and sincere, her voice not enormous but generously delivered, her high notes glistening. Zachary Woolfe, New York Times, 17 Nov. 2023 Some might call it retrograde for a work from 1996, but its indebtedness to Puccini suits a story about a wistful prima donna in the early nineteen-hundreds. Condé Nast, The New Yorker, 10 Nov. 2023 His photographic work is moody and wistful, dark but expressively romantic. Seth Combs, San Diego Union-Tribune, 5 Nov. 2023 In wistful and remorseful turns, Swift acutely describes feeling caught between your heart and your head. TIME, 25 Oct. 2023 From Girl, Interrupted to Edward Scissorhands and more recently, Stranger Things, the American actor favors complicated characters, made all the more enigmatic by those wistful dark eyes and alabaster skin. Hannah Coates, Vogue, 29 Oct. 2023 Boyd, island, and Schaffer often draw their lyrics from the Friend’s deep catalog of spiritual writings, and there’s something wistful and raw about hearing such solemn, ecstatic texts as delicate indie tunes. Sara Holdren, Vulture, 19 Oct. 2023 So Howard went back to square one and composed a wistful, lullaby-like theme and numerous arpeggiated solos for Hahn, the violinist, and the resulting score took on a woodsy romanticism. Tim Greiving, Washington Post, 19 Oct. 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'wistful.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


blend of wishful and obsolete English wistly intently

First Known Use

1714, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of wistful was in 1714


Dictionary Entries Near wistful

Cite this Entry

“Wistful.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/wistful. Accessed 10 Dec. 2023.

Kids Definition


wist·​ful ˈwist-fəl How to pronounce wistful (audio)
: feeling or showing a timid desire
a wistful look on his face
wistfully adverb
wistfulness noun
Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
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