Definition of wail in English:



  • 1A prolonged high-pitched cry of pain, grief, or anger.

    ‘Christopher let out a wail’
    • ‘In towns and refugee camps across the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, tens of thousands of Palestinians poured into the streets with wails of grief and volleys of gunfire.’
    • ‘The noise downstairs escalated quickly from whispers and murmuring voices to sobs and wails.’
    • ‘Naaz Hosseini's voice slips from a serene hum to a full-throated wail to a sweet high-pitched lilt, flavored by her roots in Armenia and Persia.’
    • ‘Last year's plaintive wails about the attacks on A Beautiful Mind are child's play in comparison.’
    • ‘The choruses consist of some Mark Solomon-like wails, followed by screaming of such ferocity that it is almost disturbing.’
    • ‘More screams and wails of pain hung in the air, and then she heard her name.’
    • ‘She let out a mighty wail from the pain, and writhed around on the ground.’
    • ‘Tate's sobs and the anguished wails of relatives will not do much to change that.’
    • ‘The word ‘guilty’ was greeted with an anguished wail from the gallery above.’
    • ‘I'll be listening for a few wails of despair from disappointed guys.’
    • ‘His substitution prompted a wail of anguish from the midfielder and tears to sting his eyes.’
    • ‘The sound of a baby's wail echoed down the corridor.’
    • ‘Screaming guitars and tortured wails were the tools used to pound the passion into each song and the listeners into dejected submission.’
    • ‘A peacock's sharp wail pierced the music.’
    • ‘This is a column about New Labour's complete failure to publicise its many progressive achievements, while screeching out its reactionary policies in a ceaseless wail.’
    • ‘She let out a high-pitched wail and fled to the back of the room.’
    • ‘Another wail of agony came from the closed room.’
    • ‘You no longer fearfully leap to the scene of every scream - only those with the distinctive wail of pain.’
    • ‘Mrs Greenwood recalls hearing the wails and screams of patients in the night and her first death in the wards.’
    • ‘The captain threw back his head in a wail of anguish, jostling her body in his pain and frustration.’
    howl, bawl, yowl, keening
    cry, cry of grief, cry of pain, lament, lamentation, sob, moan, groan
    shriek, scream, yelp, bellow, roar, caterwaul
    whine, complaint, whimper
    View synonyms
    1. 1.1A prolonged high-pitched sound.
      ‘the wail of an air-raid siren’
      • ‘The end of the working day in the tea garden is marked by the wail of an air-raid siren.’
      • ‘No noise in the sky, but a wail of sirens constantly around the park, so steady that they sounded like air-raid alarms in the London blitz.’
      • ‘The buzzer near his head sounded off blaring wails of irritating noise.’
      • ‘But, in general, the wail of jazz trumpets and the melancholy echoes of domestic chaos remind you that Elysian Fields resounds with desperation.’
      • ‘The bleeping from the life support monitor becomes a monotone wail as it signals the death of the patient connected to it.’
      • ‘Suddenly amid wails of screaming engines, plumes of smoke and burning rubber, riders and bikes raced down the straight and through the first corner.’
      • ‘Their meals in the darkness were often interrupted by the wail of sirens, the sounds of bombs, and the screams of frightened civilians as they rushed to the nearest bunker.’
      • ‘The sirens were in full alert, screeching wails filling their ears.’
      • ‘Within seconds six Israelis lay dead and within minutes the air was filled with the familiar wail of ambulance sirens and the sound of crying.’
      • ‘She pressed her remote control gadget and the car burst into siren wails with lights flashing.’
      • ‘Trees absorb the siren wails, clanging of trash cans, and other sounds of urban life.’
      • ‘Fans with vastly different tastes still get off on its piercing wail, distorted rumbles, or clean and warm sound.’
      • ‘The sax sounds on the edge of crazed, pealing off into wails and squeals, which are in fairly marked contrast to the beats/piano that convey something of the air of a polite jazz-funk track.’
      • ‘Living in the tobacconists on Dane Street owned by his parents, Amy and Fred, he would often be woken by the wail of the air-raid sirens.’
      • ‘Suddenly all the indicators began flashing an angry red and several alarm signals went off at once creating a loud cacophony of buzzes, sirens and wails.’
      • ‘Traffic is steady and far off he hears the wail of sirens.’
      • ‘In fact, it's so vivid that as her words tumble out in rapid-fire succession, you can almost hear the wail of the ambulances blaring in the background.’
      • ‘They arrived in the capital to the mournful wail of air raid sirens.’
      • ‘Telephone users in the city these days have been treated to a sound resembling a ghoulish wail, if they inadvertently misplace the receiver.’
      • ‘The pow-pow-pow of gunshots was a familiar sound, as was the wail of police sirens.’


  • 1 Utter a wail.

    ‘Tina ran off wailing’
    [with direct speech] ‘‘But why?’ she wailed’
    • ‘She wailed something in a language I couldn't recognise and struck a pose.’
    • ‘"I'm sorry!" she wailed miserably.’
    • ‘Was it you who was up in the night wailing like a banshee?’
    • ‘Screaming, shrieking, wailing, she worked herself into a frenzy.’
    • ‘It was pandemonium, people wailing and screaming.’
    • ‘Former work and pensions minister Margaret Hodge wailed it would put 6p on tax.’
    • ‘Then more towers of smoke were climbing toward the sky; screams wailed across the fields.’
    • ‘That means no crying, wailing or temper tantrums.’
    • ‘Isis was so associated with mourning in Egypt, at funeral services women were hired to call out loud wailing lamentations as the body was escorted to the grave.’
    • ‘During the speeches a young boy began wailing uncontrollably.’
    • ‘‘One, two, three,’ screamed Charlotte, as she wailed away into the microphone.’
    • ‘Somewhere in the room, a baby was howling and wailing.’
    • ‘‘Someone must take responsibility for sorting out the mess,’ he wailed last week.’
    • ‘In fact, wailing babies are taken for granted on a bus trip.’
    • ‘The distant screaming and wailing I can just about stand.’
    • ‘The BBC must have been wailing in despair when they realised the wasted potential of their "Neighbours".’
    • ‘I was standing in the cold, bare hallway of a hospital, listening to my child wail and scream from behind a closed door.’
    • ‘Track three features some silence, some noisy violin screeches, and what I think is a female voice wailing and breathing slowly.’
    • ‘Women were seen screaming and wailing at the hospital as ambulances ferried the wounded to the emergency department.’
    • ‘They whine and wail about how we have all retreated into our suburbs and Internet connections and no longer rally around grand national projects that inspire us with a vision of all that government can do.’
    howl, weep, cry, sob, moan, groan, keen, lament, yowl, blubber, snivel, whimper, whine, squall, bawl, shriek, scream, yelp, caterwaul, waul
    complain, grumble, carp, sorrow, beat one's breast
    View synonyms
    1. 1.1Make a prolonged high-pitched sound.
      ‘the wind wailed and buffeted the timber structure’
      ‘wailing sirens’
      • ‘A horrible siren sound wailed across the boat and suddenly, men and weapons erupted on deck.’
      • ‘The CD began playing, guitar riffs wailed and the lead singer of Poison screamed out his lyrics.’
      • ‘He really made that guitar wail, though.’
      • ‘He poured out his otherwise ignored feelings into music, making his flute wail with stormy rage, sigh soft dirges, or trill in happy abandon.’
      • ‘Sirens wailed and bells sounded in European capitals at noon as leaders and the people observed the tribute to the dead.’
      • ‘Suddenly, alarms wail and lights start flashing all around the regeneration cylinders!’
      • ‘However, barely a day or night goes by without the sound of a burglar alarm wailing.’
      • ‘Shocked bystanders hugged each other, some crying or holding their hands to their faces as ambulances, sirens wailing, evacuated the wounded.’
      • ‘Police were cordoning off the road as wailing ambulances weaved their way through the traffic.’
      • ‘Mat Maneri plays some lonesome violin, letting strings weep in blank, tragic beauty, plucking and wailing and sounding like a dying dog.’
      • ‘But when the blizzards wail the Arctic fox curls its tail over its frosty nose and sleeps in the snows.’
      • ‘The ambulance wailing, the children screeching, and the stray dogs barking on Underwood Avenue on a rainy day.’
      • ‘The sound of sirens wails through the apartment but the couple are now used to it.’
      • ‘If this had been a movie, there would have been a sax wailing in the background.’
      • ‘At other times the sea will seem a dark seething green, the wind wailing across the top of its stormy depths.’
      • ‘Convoys of emergency vehicles were still streaming into the city… sirens wailing.’
      • ‘When the towers collapsed, my building was shrouded in a debris cloud that shut out the light of day and muffled the sounds of firemen shouting and sirens wailing.’
      • ‘A wooden vessel maneuvered to dock at a pier on Mahakam Ulu River, the sound of its whistle wailing far and wide.’
      • ‘The wind wails around the buildings and chases the occasional snowflakes falling from the low grey clouds.’
      • ‘The near dead silence was obliterated as alarms wailed across the loudspeakers.’
      howl, weep, cry, sob, moan, groan, keen, lament, yowl, blubber, snivel, whimper, whine, squall, bawl, shriek, scream, yelp, caterwaul, waul
      complain, grumble, carp, sorrow, beat one's breast
      View synonyms
    2. 1.2literary [with object]Manifest or feel deep sorrow for; lament.
      ‘she wailed her wretched life’
      • ‘He wrenches his hands in agony, and again again looks up to heaven, wailing his fate.’


Middle English: from Old Norse; related to woe.