\ ˈvān How to pronounce vain (audio) \

Essential Meaning of vain

1 : too proud of your own appearance, abilities, achievements, etc. : conceited She is very vain about her appearance. He is the vainest man I know.
2 : having no success : not producing a desired result They made a vain [=unsuccessful] attempt to escape. A vain effort to quell the public's fears only made matters worse. Volunteers searched the area in the vain hope of finding clues.

Full Definition of vain

1 : having or showing undue or excessive pride in one's appearance or achievements : conceited
2 : marked by futility or ineffectualness : unsuccessful, useless vain efforts to escape
3 : having no real value : idle, worthless vain pretensions
4 archaic : foolish, silly
in vain
1 : to no end : without success or result her efforts were in vain
2 : in an irreverent or blasphemous manner Being a religion writer, I have always tried to avoid using the Lord's name in vain. I have not always succeeded.— Don Lattin — see also take in vain

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Other Words from vain

vainly adverb
vainness \ ˈvān-​nəs How to pronounce vain (audio) \ noun

Choose the Right Synonym for vain

futile, vain, fruitless mean producing no result. futile may connote completeness of failure or unwisdom of undertaking. resistance had proved so futile that surrender was the only choice left vain usually implies simple failure to achieve a desired result. a vain attempt to get the car started fruitless comes close to vain but often suggests long and arduous effort or severe disappointment. fruitless efforts to obtain a lasting peace

Examples of vain in a Sentence

For a half a century, scholars have searched in vain for the source of the jade that the early civilizations of the Americas prized above all else and fashioned into precious objects of worship, trade and adornment. — William J. Broad, New York Times, 22 May 2002 … the miseries of people's lives ought not to be exploited ad libitum in the furtherance of our profits or our careers, and in the vain conviction that we understand everything. — Richard Taruskin, New Republic, 24 Dec. 2001 It is in vain to say human beings ought to be satisfied with tranquillity: they must have action; and they will make it if they cannot find it. — Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre, 1847 Vanity and pride are different things, though the words are often used synonymously. A person may be proud without being vain. Pride relates more to our opinion of ourselves, vanity to what we would have others think of us. — Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice, 1813 Where words are scarce, they are seldom spent in vain — William Shakespeare, King Richard the Second, 1596 She is very vain about her appearance. He is the vainest man I know. A vain effort to quell the public's fears only made matters worse. Volunteers searched the area in the vain hope of finding clues.
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Recent Examples on the Web Litigation to return the team continued until 1967, but the attempts were in vain. Jr Radcliffe, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 8 Oct. 2021 However, if set down late enough in the loop, your objective-winning unit’s efforts could soon be in vain. Washington Post, 29 Sep. 2021 Safety Darius Snow rolled into the sixth-year senior while both tried in vain to tackle Nebraska quarterback Adrian Martinez, who ran 45 yards on the play. Chris Solari, Detroit Free Press, 26 Sep. 2021 But eventually many discover that all the counting is in vain. Robert J. Davis, Time, 24 Sep. 2021 As a medical team tried in vain to restart his heart, Harper was working her shift just down the hallway. Michelle Theriault Boots, Anchorage Daily News, 23 Sep. 2021 Tobias Lindholm’s film is a fitting tribute to all who served in Afghanistan, not just those representing the Stars and Stripes, trying in vain to prevent the exact scenario that has played out over the last few weeks. Sam Sweeney, National Review, 5 Sep. 2021 But after a seven-hour wait for clearance to enter the airport’s gates, the group was informed their efforts would be in vain as security at the gates was not guaranteed. Washington Post, 30 Aug. 2021 As Anna tries in vain to contact Sally’s only living relative, her estranged daughter Mabel, Anna’s unanswered stream-of-consciousness voice mail messages become the narration to the show. New York Times, 24 Aug. 2021

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

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 3

History and Etymology for vain

Middle English veyn "empty, futile, groundless, foolish, excessively proud," borrowed from Anglo-French vain, vein, going back to Latin vānus "lacking content, empty, illusory, marked by foolish or empty pride" — more at wane entry 1

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Time Traveler for vain

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

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Last Updated

17 Oct 2021

Cite this Entry

“Vain.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 28 Oct. 2021.

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More Definitions for vain


\ ˈvān How to pronounce vain (audio) \
vainer; vainest

Kids Definition of vain

1 : having no success He made a vain effort to escape.
2 : having or showing the attitude of a person who thinks too highly of his or her looks or abilities
in vain
1 : without success I searched in vain for my key.
2 : in an unholy way

Other Words from vain

vainly adverb I looked at the others, searching vainly for a sympathetic face. — Gail Carson Levine, Ella Enchanted

More from Merriam-Webster on vain

Nglish: Translation of vain for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of vain for Arabic Speakers


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