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  1. grievous distress, affliction, or trouble: His woe was almost beyond description.
  2. an affliction: She suffered a fall, among her other woes.
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  1. an exclamation of grief, distress, or lamentation.
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Origin of woe

before 900; Middle English wo (interjection and noun), Old English (interjection) (cf. wellaway); cognate with Dutch wee, German Weh, Old Norse vei, Latin vae


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1. joy.
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Examples from the Web for woe

Contemporary Examples

Historical Examples

  • Did she not break into lamentation and woe that a brother should so demean himself?

    The White Company

    Arthur Conan Doyle

  • We could not miss the way, our driver said, and woe betide us if we did!

    The Roof of France

    Matilda Betham-Edwards

  • Woe to him who is not the keeper of his own conscience—the supporter of his own resolution!

  • A month will decide the one, perhaps: But what a duration of woe will the other be!

    Clarissa, Volume 2 (of 9)

    Samuel Richardson

  • Or was it not in that hour—that solemn commune—soothed from its woe?

    Night and Morning, Complete

    Edward Bulwer-Lytton

British Dictionary definitions for woe


  1. literary intense grief or misery
  2. (often plural) affliction or misfortune
  3. woe betide someone misfortune will befall someonewoe betide you if you arrive late
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  1. Also: woe is me archaic an exclamation of sorrow or distress
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Word Origin

Old English wā, wǣ; related to Old Saxon, Old High German wē, Old Norse vei, Gothic wai, Latin vae, Sanskrit uvē; see wail
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 woe


Old English wa, a common exclamation of lament in many languages (cf. Latin , Greek oa, German weh, Lettish wai, Old Irish fe, Welsh gwae, Armenian vay). The noun is attested from late 12c., from the interjection.

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Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper