expressing sorrow or melancholy; mournful: a plaintive melody.

Origin of plaintive

1350–1400; plaint + -ive; replacing Middle English plaintif < Middle French
Related formsplain·tive·ly, adverbplain·tive·ness, noun
Can be confusedplaintiff plaintive

Synonyms for plaintive

Antonyms for plaintive Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for plaintive

Contemporary Examples of plaintive

Historical Examples of plaintive

  • 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 Formsplaintively, adverbplaintiveness, noun

Word Origin for plaintive

C14: from Old French plaintif grieving, from plainte plaint
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

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