mel·​an·​choly | \ ˈme-lən-ˌkä-lē How to pronounce melancholy (audio) \
plural melancholies

Essential Meaning of melancholy

old-fashioned + literary : a sad mood or feeling suffering from melancholy a time of melancholy

Full Definition of melancholy

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1a : depression of spirits : dejection great outbursts of creativity alternate with feelings of extreme melancholy— Brenda Lane Richardson Mitchell sounds utterly alone in her melancholy, turning the sadness into tender art.Rolling Stone
b : a pensive mood a fine romantic kind of a melancholy on the fading of the year— Richard Holmes One white arm and hand drooped over the side of the chair, and her whole pose and figure spoke of an absorbing melancholy.— Arthur Conan Doyle
b archaic : an abnormal state attributed to an excess of black bile and characterized by irascibility or depression
c archaic : black bile



Definition of melancholy (Entry 2 of 2)

1a : suggestive or expressive of sadness or depression of mind or spirit sang in a melancholy voice
b : causing or tending to cause sadness or depression of mind or spirit : dismal a melancholy thought
2a : depressed in spirits : dejected, sad
b : pensive

Examples of melancholy in a Sentence

Noun the bleakness of winter sometimes gives me cause for melancholy Adjective A melancholy lesson of advancing years is the realization that you can't make old friends. — Christopher Hitchens, Harper's, June 1999 He has a snarled mop of spiky black hair, melancholy circles around his eyes, and a tiny Cupid's-bow mouth. — Pauline Kael, New Yorker, 17 Dec. 1990 I see your mournful party in my mind's eye under every varying circumstance of the day;  … the efforts to talk, the frequent summons to melancholy orders and cares, and poor Edward, restless in misery, going from one room to the other … — Jane Austen, letter, 24 Oct. 1808 She was in a melancholy mood. He became quiet and melancholy as the hours slowly passed.
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Recent Examples on the Web: Noun Correspondent David Pogue looks at how the music of Peanuts became inseparable from the joy and melancholy of the holiday season. CBS News, 16 Dec. 2021 Morley delivers Eurydice’s fluttering lines with pathos and aplomb, but the opposing forces of energy and melancholy don’t balance out, and the moment is a rare dip in the score’s intensity. Justin Davidson, Vulture, 24 Nov. 2021 The season ultimately comes across as a tidy good-versus-bad package that eliminates the mystery and melancholy at the heart of the original. Shirley Li, The Atlantic, 16 Nov. 2021 There is no place, not even India, where the use of color produces as beguiling a mixture of gaiety and melancholy as Mexico. New York Times, 11 Nov. 2021 The duo play into the melancholy of the song’s metaphoric theme of attending your own wake — while begging to not be forgotten — with black-and-white aerial footage of a funeral procession. Larisha Paul, Rolling Stone, 11 Oct. 2021 While very much a feel-good movie, there’s a wistful melancholy that ebbs and flows throughout as well. Christopher Arnott,, 10 Nov. 2021 In this film, the intricate, airless visual style and tone of wistful melancholy for which Anderson has become famous would really cohere. Alison Willmore, Vulture, 22 Oct. 2021 The melancholy of age and the power of memory have always been central themes for McCartney. David Remnick, The New Yorker, 11 Oct. 2021 Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective The show doesn’t shy away from sadness, but that sadness is usually more melancholy than bleak. Rebecca Alter, Vulture, 3 Dec. 2021 Funny, melancholy and often socially prescient, they are acclaimed for viewing the American condition through a lens that’s uniquely askew. Carolyn Kellogg, Los Angeles Times, 2 Nov. 2021 Similarly, the story is built upon an emotional foundation of melancholy and regret, of the sins of the fathers and the pain of their redemption. Richard Brody, The New Yorker, 12 Oct. 2021 The decline in agriculture led to another consequence — a loss of cultural practices tied to the land, fueling a deep sense of melancholy that struck entire families. Alicia Inez Guzmán, Rolling Stone, 30 Nov. 2021 Whimsical headline aside, there’s a real melancholy lurking here, even as Short accepts his laurels. Peter Rubin, Longreads, 30 Oct. 2021 Mirrors is a really gorgeous amalgamation of melancholy, groove and sort of intellectual, effervescent energy. Katie Bain, Billboard, 2 Sep. 2021 It is propelled by the jealous, curious, melancholy, and blissful contractions of eros without any expectation of reciprocity. Merve Emre, The New Yorker, 23 Aug. 2021 To these causes must be attributed that strange melancholy which often haunts the inhabitants of democratic countries in the midst of their abundance, and that disgust of life which sometimes seizes upon them in the midst of . . . Cameron Hilditch, National Review, 24 July 2021

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'melancholy.' 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 melancholy


14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 2b


14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

History and Etymology for melancholy


Middle English malencolie, melancolie "black bile, preponderance or excess of black bile, state (as anger or sorrow) produced by excessive black bile," borrowed from Anglo-French & Late Latin; Anglo-French malencolie, melencolie, borrowed from Late Latin melancholia (Medieval Latin malencolia, by association with the prefix mal- mal-), borrowed from Greek melancholía, from melan-, athematic variant of melano- melano- + cholḗ "bile" + -ia -ia entry 1 — more at gall entry 1


Middle English malincolie, melancolie, from attributive use of malencolie melancholy entry 1, probably reinforced by construal of -ly as an adjective suffix

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Time Traveler for melancholy

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The first known use of melancholy was in the 14th century

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Dictionary Entries Near melancholy



melancholy thistle

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Last Updated

28 Dec 2021

Cite this Entry

“Melancholy.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 24 Jan. 2022.

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More Definitions for melancholy


mel·​an·​choly | \ ˈme-lən-ˌkä-lē How to pronounce melancholy (audio) \

Kids Definition of melancholy

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: sad sense 1 I'll be melancholy if you go.



Kids Definition of melancholy (Entry 2 of 2)

: a sad or gloomy mood


mel·​an·​choly | \ ˈmel-ən-ˌkäl-ē How to pronounce melancholy (audio) \
plural melancholies

Medical Definition of melancholy

1 : depression or dejection of spirits also : melancholia
2 archaic
a : an abnormal state attributed to an excess of black bile and characterized by irascibility or depression

Other Words from melancholy

melancholy adjective

More from Merriam-Webster on melancholy

Nglish: Translation of melancholy for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of melancholy for Arabic Speakers


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