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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

Example Sentences

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
Wednesday’s child is full of woe, Thursday’s child has far to go. Yiyun Li, The New Yorker, 16 Jan. 2023 The injury is the latest medical woe for the Spartans; sophomore guard Jaden Akens, who underwent ankle surgery during the offseason and missed much of fall camp, left Friday’s game against Villanova with about six minutes remaining. Ryan Ford, Detroit Free Press, 25 Nov. 2022 The daylong shutdown was the latest woe for Toyota after problems with semiconductor supplies. Sean Mclain, WSJ, 1 Mar. 2022 But these numbers undercount the extent of the woe. Robinson Meyer, The Atlantic, 23 Feb. 2022 But there’s a bracing maturity in these 12 tracks that’s more emotionally complex and intriguing than the rather more easy-to-follow woe of the preceding three collections. Chris Willman, Variety, 16 Nov. 2021 These products usually impart scents (lavender and mint are common) and sensations (cooling menthol, warming camphor) that can distract you enough to change the woe-is-me narrative. Scott Douglas, Outside Online, 5 Feb. 2020 Each episode of the 12-part series features a different tale of woe from a traveler who has come to the inn. Joshua Dudley, Forbes, 28 Dec. 2022 Turns out, Wednesday's child is not only full of woe but also has some serious choreography skills. Emlyn Travis, EW.com, 17 Dec. 2022 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'woe.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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 31 Jan. 2023.

Kids Definition


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

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