See more synonyms for vain on
adjective, vain·er, vain·est.
  1. excessively proud of or concerned about one's own appearance, qualities, achievements, etc.; conceited: a vain dandy.
  2. proceeding from or showing pride in or concern about one's appearance, qualities, etc.; resulting from or displaying vanity: He made some vain remarks about his accomplishments.
  3. ineffectual or unsuccessful; futile: vain hopes; a vain effort; a vain war.
  4. without real significance, value, or importance; baseless or worthless: vain pageantry; vain display.
  5. Archaic. senseless or foolish.
  1. in vain,
    1. without effect or avail; to no purpose: lives lost in vain; to apologize in vain.
    2. in an improper or irreverent manner: to take God's name in vain.

Origin of vain

1250–1300; Middle English < Old French < Latin vānus empty, vain
Related formsvain·ly, adverbvain·ness, nounun·vain, adjectiveun·vain·ly, adverbun·vain·ness, noun
Can be confusedvain vane vein

Synonyms for vain

See more synonyms for on

Antonyms for vain

1. humble. 3. useful. Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Examples from the Web for vain

Contemporary Examples of vain

Historical Examples of vain

  • Ambrose felt almost despairing as he heard in vain the last name.

    The Armourer's Prentices

    Charlotte M. Yonge

  • But, bound as he was, we can understand why they looked in vain.

    Brave and Bold

    Horatio Alger

  • Weary and restless with vain waiting, they looked from the doorway at the weather.


    Thomas Wentworth Higginson

  • You look in vain for any outward signs of profligacy or debauchery.

  • O the words of kindness, all to be expressed in vain, that flowed from her lips!

    Clarissa, Volume 1 (of 9)

    Samuel Richardson

British Dictionary definitions for vain


  1. inordinately proud of one's appearance, possessions, or achievements
  2. given to ostentatious display, esp of one's beauty
  3. worthless
  4. senseless or futile
  1. in vain to no avail; fruitlessly
  2. take someone's name in vain
    1. to use the name of someone, esp God, without due respect or reverence
    2. jocularto mention someone's name
Derived Formsvainly, adverbvainness, noun

Word Origin for vain

C13: via Old French from Latin vānus
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 vain

c.1300, "devoid of real value, idle, unprofitable," from Old French vein "worthless," from Latin vanus "idle, empty," from PIE *wa-no-, from root *eue- "to leave, abandon, give out" (cf. Old English wanian "to lessen," wan "deficient;" Old Norse vanta "to lack;" Latin vacare "to be empty," vastus "empty, waste;" Avestan va- "lack," Persian vang "empty, poor;" Sanskrit una- "deficient"). Meaning "conceited" first recorded 1690s, from earlier sense of "silly, idle, foolish" (late 14c.). Phrase in vain "to no effect" (c.1300, after Latin in vanum) preserves the original sense. Related: Vainly.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

Idioms and Phrases with vain


see in vain; take someone's name in vain.

The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.