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[pleyn-tiv] /ˈpleɪn tɪv/
expressing sorrow or melancholy; mournful:
a plaintive melody.
Origin of plaintive
1350-1400; plaint + -ive; replacing Middle English plaintif < Middle French
Related forms
plaintively, adverb
plaintiveness, noun
Can be confused
plaintiff, plaintive.
wistful, sorrowful, sad.
happy, joyful. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2017.
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Examples from the Web for plaintive
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • Yet the thought of her had persisted as a plaintive undertone through all the days after.

    The Spenders Harry Leon Wilson
  • Burke inquired in desperation before the plaintive outburst.

    Within the Law Marvin Dana
  • It is bitter in Baudelaire, sweet and plaintive in Lamartine, mystic in Verlaine.

    De Profundis Oscar Wilde
  • Yet he managed to utter a plaintive thought, showing at least that he realised his position.

    The Secret Agent Joseph Conrad
  • She clasped her hands, suddenly carrying her urgency to plaintive entreaty.

    Alice Adams Booth Tarkington
British Dictionary definitions for plaintive


expressing melancholy; mournful
Derived Forms
plaintively, adverb
plaintiveness, noun
Word Origin
C14: from Old French plaintif grieving, from plainteplaint
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for plaintive

late 14c., "lamenting," from Old French plaintif "complaining; wretched, miserable," from plainte (see plaint). Sense of "mournful, sad" first recorded 1570s. Related: Plaintively; plaintiveness.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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