Definition of vain in English:



  • 1Having or showing an excessively high opinion of one's appearance, abilities, or worth.

    ‘their flattery made him vain’
    ‘a vain woman with a streak of snobbery’
    • ‘When you're young you just cannot imagine a universe without yourself because you are so vain.’
    • ‘And she was vain, always very concerned about her appearance.’
    • ‘They all agree he is arrogant and selfish and vain.’
    • ‘He didn't look like he was bothered by all the attention, but he wasn't vain or self-centered either.’
    • ‘She's a shallow, vain, self-centered woman who is going to crash and burn at a very early age.’
    • ‘A man should be clean and confident in his appearance, but not vain or pretentious.’
    • ‘And don't be too vain to ask for help along the way.’
    • ‘He was vain, egotistical, boorish and gloriously insensitive.’
    • ‘Not to sound vain, but I looked really hot.’
    • ‘Few people can stand constant praise without becoming vain and self-centered.’
    • ‘She hated herself for being so vain and conceited.’
    • ‘This archbishop has, in my opinion, been a vain and self-aggrandising man throughout.’
    • ‘Possessive, vain and self-absorbed, she stifled him until, he said, he could no longer stand women.’
    • ‘Aside from being a known womanizer, he was known to be a very vain and arrogant man.’
    • ‘She was the most arrogant, vain, self centred person I'd ever met.’
    • ‘Unlike a lot of more vain, self-regarding actors, she finds it impossible to conceal her vulnerability.’
    • ‘Actually, I'm not being quite as vain as it may seem.’
    • ‘Looking back now I can really see I was a very vain person.’
    • ‘Elizabeth, vain and proud about her legendary beauty, was convinced she'd found the secret of youth.’
    • ‘He was so vain, he would change his clothes three times a day.’
    conceited, narcissistic, self-loving, in love with oneself, self-admiring, self-regarding, wrapped up in oneself, self-absorbed, self-obsessed, self-centred, egotistic, egotistical, egoistic, egocentric, egomaniac
    View synonyms
  • 2attributive Producing no result; useless.

    ‘a vain attempt to tidy up the room’
    ‘the vain hope of finding work’
    • ‘Many even stayed in the vain hope of catching a glimpse of their idol.’
    • ‘They fought off their own hidden preferences and opinions in a vain struggle to be identical with everyone else; to ‘fit’.’
    • ‘The game has always been controlled by wealthy people, often successful local businessmen who fritter away their fortunes on the vain hope of glory for their team.’
    • ‘There is irritating piped music, a vain attempt to drown out the background wind-pocket moan of the ventilation/heating system and generate some atmosphere perhaps.’
    • ‘So this afternoon will see me making another disconsolate tour of the shops, in the vain hope of finding a pair of shoes that is both elegant and comfortable.’
    • ‘We took to channel hopping in the vain hope that something remotely interesting would catch our attention.’
    • ‘A couple of Italian wine bottles and maps of the Old Country had been scattered over the walls in a vain attempt to give the place, formerly a steak restaurant, a Mediterranean feel.’
    • ‘I walked up and down Tottenhan Court Road with Mark at lunchtime in a vain attempt to stave off unconsciousness.’
    • ‘From what I could gather, he was being sent around to cold-call upon the local residents in a vain attempt to convert them to the service of his electricity utility provider.’
    • ‘I took several deep breaths in a very vain attempt to calm myself.’
    • ‘She secretly changed her name three years after being jailed for life, in the vain hope that she would be able to begin a new life outside prison.’
    • ‘A surfer who braved 20 ft waves in a vain attempt to help rescue a mother and her children from seas off Scarborough said yesterday there was no safety equipment in the area.’
    • ‘As I stood outside the store, battered by the merciless, penetrating wind, I was reminded of days when I'd wear two pairs of pyjamas under my uniform in a vain attempt to keep warm.’
    • ‘The scream carried a vain hope that someone would do something to intervene.’
    • ‘I like to support movies like this in the perhaps vain hope that they will do well and the studios will make more of them.’
    • ‘He was yelling and crying, reaching out desperately and uselessly past the restraining arms in a vain attempt to bring his friend back.’
    • ‘The way he's overcome adversity has been a real inspiration - and in a vain attempt to copy him I'm following his training programme as I prepare for my first duathlon.’
    • ‘Many of us seem to entertain the vain hope that ignorance will confer innocence, that by denying the consequences of our complicity, it will be as if it never happened.’
    • ‘The interviewer, in a vain attempt to give St Clair another opportunity to repair the damage done by his earlier answer, rephrased the question.’
    • ‘Deregulation has meant that for once anyone waiting for a cab during the Christmas period will not have to spend a bone-rattling hour or so in the vain hope a taxi will come by.’
    futile, useless, pointless, worthless, nugatory, to no purpose, in vain
    View synonyms
    1. 2.1 Having no likelihood of fulfilment; empty.
      ‘a vain boast’
      • ‘This turn of events, this sad return after so many vain boasts, would have made a shamed recluse out of a normal human being.’
      • ‘By and large I'm all for the right to speak your mind and give your opinion as long as it's of worth and not just some vain criticism thrown out for the sake of it.’
      • ‘It's not a vain boast on the evidence of this season.’
      futile, useless, pointless, to no purpose, worthless, nugatory
      View synonyms


  • in vain

    • Without success or a result.

      ‘they waited in vain for a response’
      • ‘The crowds waited in vain for an encore, not quite believing it was time to go home already.’
      • ‘The parish council has tried in vain to persuade another building society to open a branch in Pewsey.’
      • ‘The couple suffered severe burns as they battled in vain to rescue their boys from the blaze.’
      • ‘Staff at the prison had tried in vain to resuscitate him in his cell.’
      • ‘Imagine you tell her to come straight home, then you wait in vain for the sound of her key in the door.’
      • ‘"He tried in vain to resuscitate them but it was too late, " he said.’
      • ‘My constituents needed to know that the loss of life had not been in vain.’
      • ‘Previous efforts by the council to retain industrial use on other key sites in the city have been in vain.’
      • ‘My hands felt slippery, and I tried in vain to calm my nerves.’
      • ‘She was one of hundreds of customers who were trying in vain to benefit from a giveaway deal.’
      futile, useless, pointless, worthless, nugatory, to no purpose
      unsuccessfully, vainly, without success, to no avail, to no purpose, ineffectually, with no result, fruitlessly, profitlessly, unproductively
      futile, useless, pointless, to no purpose, worthless, nugatory
      View synonyms
  • take someone's name in vain

    • Use someone's name in a way that shows a lack of respect.

      • ‘Meanwhile a so-called rival diarist has been taking her name in vain, referring sneeringly to her brief career as an author of bodice rippers.’
      • ‘For every Broons there's been a Magoons (Meet the Magoons was the short-lived Caledonian curry-house sitcom that was actually pretty good, but I'm taking its name in vain because I need a rhyme).’
      • ‘They knew the third commandment: ‘You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.’’
      • ‘No-one these days can take Odin's name in vain, and, if swearing is any guide, perhaps the Christian panoply of sacred beings is going the same way as Thor and Odin.’
      • ‘‘Someone taking my name in vain?‘said Caroline.’


Middle English (in the sense ‘devoid of real worth’): via Old French from Latin vanus ‘empty, without substance’.