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used to express grief, regret, or distress


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plural woes
: a condition of deep suffering from misfortune, affliction, or grief
: ruinous trouble : calamity, affliction
economic woes
Choose the Right Synonym for woe

sorrow, grief, anguish, woe, regret mean distress of mind.

sorrow implies a sense of loss or a sense of guilt and remorse.

a family united in sorrow upon the patriarch's death

grief implies poignant sorrow for an immediate cause.

the inexpressible grief of the bereaved parents

anguish suggests torturing grief or dread.

the anguish felt by the parents of the kidnapped child

woe is deep or inconsolable grief or misery.

cries of woe echoed throughout the bombed city

regret implies pain caused by deep disappointment, fruitless longing, or unavailing remorse.

nagging regret for missed opportunities

Examples of woe in a Sentence

Interjection ah, woe, with the death of the last of my siblings I am alone in this world! Noun The city's traffic woes are well-known. a tale of misery and woe
Recent Examples on the Web
Lack of bench depth For a team that has had serious injury woes over the past couple of seasons, depth remains a big problem and is an issue that should have been addressed leading into the season. Roderick Boone, Charlotte Observer, 15 Feb. 2024 Mother tried to kill herself, cops say Financial woes? Grethel Aguila, Miami Herald, 15 Feb. 2024 The former president spends much of his time belittling others, boastfully repeating lies, characterizing himself as a martyr in the face of his many legal woes and throwing monkey wrenches into a congressional system that already barely functions. Robin Givhan, Washington Post, 13 Feb. 2024 After a whole hilariously relatable side conversation about potty training/learning woes, more optimistic posters chimed in. Beth Ann Mayer, Parents, 13 Feb. 2024 To ease recruitment woes, dentists have started making competitive changes to their staff’s compensation. Steve Pollock, STAT, 12 Feb. 2024 The pandemic changed the way people live and work—offices fell victim to the rise of remote work, and cities including San Francisco became poster children for commercial real estate woes. Alena Botros, Fortune, 7 Feb. 2024 More Trouble for Tesla The news adds to Tesla’s woes to start 2024. Bruce Gil, Quartz, 7 Feb. 2024 Thus far, to the relief of fiscal conservatives like Hershey, Moore has not indicated a move toward tax increases to offset the state’s budgetary woes. Hannah Gaskill, Baltimore Sun, 7 Feb. 2024 See More

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

Word History



Middle English wa, wo, from Old English ; akin to Old Norse vei, interjection, woe, Latin vae

First Known Use


before the 12th century, in the meaning defined above


before the 12th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of woe was before the 12th century

Dictionary Entries Near woe

Cite this Entry

“Woe.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/woe. Accessed 26 Feb. 2024.

Kids Definition


: great suffering from loss, misfortune, or trouble
: trouble entry 2 sense 1b
economic woes

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