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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 woes

Contemporary Examples

Historical Examples

  • Oh, foolish woman, if you do, you only exchange your woes for worse ones.

    A Woman Tenderfoot

    Grace Gallatin Seton-Thompson

  • She may be surrounded with variety of woes, but none of them shall approach her.


    William Godwin

  • He leads her straight into the woes: will she follow, will she hold back?

    The Prodigal Returns

    Lilian Staveley

  • We were not then prepared for peace, that sovereign balm for a nation's woes.

  • I can not hear the recital of their woes without the deepest sympathy.

British Dictionary definitions for woes


  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 woes



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