wist·​ful ˈwist-fəl How to pronounce wistful (audio)
: full of yearning or desire tinged with melancholy
also : inspiring such yearning
a wistful memoir
: musingly sad : pensive
a wistful glance
wistfully adverb
wistfulness noun

Did you know?

Wistful Has a Wishful History

Are you yearning to know the history of wistful? If so, we can ease your melancholy a little by telling you that wistful comes from a combination of wishful and wistly, a now obsolete word meaning "intently." We can't say with certainty where wistly came from, but it may have sprung from whistly, an old term meaning "silently" or "quietly." How did the supposed transition from a word meaning "quietly" to one meaning "intently" come about? That's something to muse about, but the answer isn't known.

Example Sentences

She was wistful for a moment, then asked, “Do you remember the old playground?”. He had a wistful look on his face.
Recent Examples on the Web Jin’s latest offering, which features the K-pop idol singing in both English and Korean, features wistful lyrics about a love that transcends earthly limitations. Mitchell Peters, Billboard, 30 Oct. 2022 With a wistful smile and a wave of her hands, Barbara reflects on her life, and the disruption that a massive impending construction project has already made in her community. Faith Boirard, Molly Born, cleveland, 22 July 2022 With 65 guest rooms and on the other side of the Golden Horn from the brand’s wistful Bosphorus property, a stay at this Four Seasons property is all about the history. Breanna Wilson, Forbes, 4 Oct. 2022 Photographer Preet Uday's images conjure up an evocative, wistful world of sherbet pinks and saffron oranges. Maureen O'hare, CNN, 1 Oct. 2022 Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real followed Sheryl Crow’s set with songs that were alternately intense, playful and wistful. Thom Duffy, Billboard, 25 Sep. 2022 In some cases, the end of a show marks the end of an era in our own lives, and that can usher in a wistful feeling. Matthew Gilbert, BostonGlobe.com, 18 Aug. 2022 Elling paused, then picked up the chorus one more time, a wistful coda. Hannah Edgar, Chicago Tribune, 20 Aug. 2022 With its abundance of interesting characters and Lucy’s genuine yet wistful voice, this delightful read hits all the sweet spots. Usa Today Staff, USA TODAY, 10 Aug. 2022 See More

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

Word History


blend of wishful and obsolete English wistly intently

First Known Use

1714, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of wistful was in 1714


Dictionary Entries Near wistful

Cite this Entry

“Wistful.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/wistful. Accessed 4 Dec. 2022.

Kids Definition



wist·​ful ˈwist-fəl How to pronounce wistful (audio)
: feeling or showing a timid desire
a wistful look on his face
wistfully adverb
wistfulness noun
Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!

Challenging Words You Should Know

  • hedgehog reading a book
  • Often used to describe “the march of time,” what does inexorable mean?
How Strong Is Your Vocabulary?

Test your vocabulary with our 10-question quiz!

Universal Daily Crossword

A daily challenge for crossword fanatics.