\ ˈwāl How to pronounce wail (audio) \
wailed; wailing; wails

Definition of wail

 (Entry 1 of 2)

intransitive verb

1 : to express sorrow audibly : lament
2 : to make a sound suggestive of a mournful cry
3 : to express dissatisfaction plaintively : complain

transitive verb

1 : to say or express plaintively wailed that her cake was ruined
2 archaic : bewail



Definition of wail (Entry 2 of 2)

1a : a usually prolonged cry or sound expressing grief or pain
b : a sound suggestive of wailing the wail of an air-raid siren
c : a querulous expression of grievance : complaint
2 : the act or practice of wailing : loud lamentation

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Other Words from wail


wailer \ ˈwā-​lər How to pronounce wail (audio) \ noun

Synonyms & Antonyms for wail

Synonyms: Verb

Synonyms: Noun

Antonyms: Verb

Antonyms: Noun

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Examples of wail in a Sentence

Verb The child started wailing after she stumbled and fell. A saxophone wailed in the background. “No! I don't want to go!” he wailed. She wailed that the vacation was ruined. Noun the wail of a siren a prolonged wail arose from every corner of the city as the victims of the earthquake were unearthed from the rubble
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Recent Examples on the Web: Verb In the Bronx, Harlem and Queens, ambulances and police sirens wail in the background as kids run down sidewalks and gather at the park to play basketball. USA Today, 16 Oct. 2021 As Sohel turned back into the house, a siren began to wail, then drew away and gradually diminished, gone in the direction of the river and the Old City. Daniyal Mueenuddin, The New Yorker, 31 Aug. 2021 Within minutes, sirens wail as fire and rescue apparatus, along with speeding press and radio cars, head for the river tunnels to converge on the disaster area. Popular Mechanics Editors, Popular Mechanics, 29 July 2021 Johnson’s predecessor on the case testified that Noah would wet the bed on the days before or after visiting Juarez and Cuatro, and wail and scream for up to 45 minutes, begging to stay with his great-grandmother. Los Angeles Times, 19 Aug. 2021 Watching a woman wail rock & roll, albeit with male musicians behind her, Ravan’s life changed. David Browne, Rolling Stone, 1 July 2021 The strings lilt and wail until Zauner begins shredding, like the notes can’t come out of her fast enough. Justin Curto, Vulture, 4 June 2021 The hollow woo of the air raid siren began to wail as Moran Segal was at home late at night with her three daughters. NBC News, 15 May 2021 Israel is calling on 5,000 reserve soldiers to help bolster its defenses Tuesday as rockets continue to sail into its territory from Gaza, striking buildings and prompting warning sirens to wail in cities and towns throughout the region. Greg Norman, Fox News, 11 May 2021 Recent Examples on the Web: Noun Disruptive noises like the sound of an ambulance wail or a jackhammer against pavement are an aspect of urban life the world over. Camille Squires, Quartz, 5 Oct. 2021 That monumental wail unfurled from the roof above us. Manjula Martin, The New Yorker, 30 Sep. 2021 But her catalog was made richer by keeping that as the flavor it was always meant to be, with her wail even more suited to bittersweet soul-searching than short-form vengeance. Chris Willman, Variety, 6 Oct. 2021 That grief of mine, no longer singular, was subsumed in the collective wail. New York Times, 10 May 2021 Brian Mohl began and ended with the wail and boom of 42 bagpipers and drummers assembled in the Xfinity Theatre in Hartford. Jesse Leavenworth, courant.com, 9 Sep. 2021 In a song that is by design and intention over the top, Charlie sifted through everything that was going on — Merry Clayton’s primal wail, the exquisite guitar lines, the snnnnnkkk of the güiro — and found the sonic gaps that needed to be filled. Caryn Rose, Vulture, 24 Aug. 2021 On a recent quiet morning at Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest, the sound of birds chirping in the woods was interrupted by the wail of a chainsaw, smoking and struggling against a large tree stump. Pat Mcdonogh, The Courier-Journal, 10 June 2021 Listening to the episode, as the song’s bachata guitar and dembow drums slashed through each other under Ivy’s guttural wail, I was moved to stand up and belted her requiem of resentment and heartbreak to no one in particular. Isabelia Herrera, New York Times, 11 Aug. 2021

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


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


15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 2

History and Etymology for wail


Middle English weilen, waylen, perhaps modification (influenced by Middle English weilawei wellaway) of Old Norse væla, vāla to wail; akin to Old Norse vei woe — more at woe

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Time Traveler for wail

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

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Last Updated

22 Oct 2021

Cite this Entry

“Wail.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/wail. Accessed 25 Oct. 2021.

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More Definitions for wail



English Language Learners Definition of wail

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: to make a loud, long cry of sadness or pain
: to make a long, high sound
: to complain in a loud voice



English Language Learners Definition of wail (Entry 2 of 2)

: a long cry of sadness or pain
: a long, high sound


\ ˈwāl How to pronounce wail (audio) \
wailed; wailing

Kids Definition of wail

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 : to make a long, loud cry of pain or grief
2 : to complain with a loud voice



Kids Definition of wail (Entry 2 of 2)

: a long cry of grief or pain

More from Merriam-Webster on wail

Nglish: Translation of wail for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of wail for Arabic Speakers


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