See more synonyms for wail on Thesaurus.com
verb (used without object)
  1. to utter a prolonged, inarticulate, mournful cry, usually high-pitched or clear-sounding, as in grief or suffering: to wail with pain.
  2. to make mournful sounds, as music or the wind.
  3. to lament or mourn bitterly.
  4. Jazz. to perform exceptionally well.
  5. Slang. to express emotion musically or verbally in an exciting, satisfying way.
verb (used with object)
  1. to express deep sorrow for; mourn; lament; bewail: to wail the dead; to wail one's fate.
  2. to express in wailing; cry or say in lamentation: to wail one's grief.
  1. the act of wailing.
  2. a wailing cry, as of grief, pain, or despair.
  3. any similar mournful sound: the wail of an old tune.

Origin of wail

1300–50; Middle English weile (v. and noun), perhaps derivative of Old English weilā(wei) well-away; compare Old English wǣlan to torment, Old Norse wǣla to wail
Related formswail·er, nounwail·ing·ly, adverbun·wailed, adjectiveun·wail·ing, adjective
Can be confusedwail whale
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Examples from the Web for wail

Contemporary Examples of wail

Historical Examples of wail

  • Linda looked at her as she buried her face and began to wail.

    Her Father's Daughter

    Gene Stratton-Porter

  • She was too terrified to add her weeping to the wail of the wind—it would have been too ghastly.


    Mr. and Mrs. Haldeman-Julius

  • It's the wail of a lost spirit, loosed temporarily from the horrors of purgatory.

    Good Indian

    B. M. Bower

  • The voice changed into what was almost a wail of indignation.

    The Coryston Family

    Mrs. Humphry Ward

  • No shriek, no wail, no word succeeded—all was as silent as the grave.

British Dictionary definitions for wail


  1. (intr) to utter a prolonged high-pitched cry, as of grief or misery
  2. (intr) to make a sound resembling such a crythe wind wailed in the trees
  3. (tr) to lament, esp with mournful sounds
  1. a prolonged high-pitched mournful cry or sound
Derived Formswailer, nounwailful, adjectivewailfully, adverb

Word Origin for wail

C14: of Scandinavian origin; related to Old Norse vǣla to wail, Old English woe
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 wail

early 14c., from Old Norse væla "to lament," from "woe" (see woe). Of jazz musicians, "to play very well," attested from 1955, American English slang (wailing "excellent" is attested from 1954). Related: Wailed.


c.1400; see wail (v.).

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper