Definition of wail in English:



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

    ‘Christopher let out a wail’
    • ‘A peacock's sharp wail pierced the music.’
    • ‘The choruses consist of some Mark Solomon-like wails, followed by screaming of such ferocity that it is almost disturbing.’
    • ‘The captain threw back his head in a wail of anguish, jostling her body in his pain and frustration.’
    • ‘His substitution prompted a wail of anguish from the midfielder and tears to sting his eyes.’
    • ‘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 mighty wail from the pain, and writhed around on the ground.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘Another wail of agony came from the closed room.’
    • ‘The word ‘guilty’ was greeted with an anguished wail from the gallery above.’
    • ‘She let out a high-pitched wail and fled to the back of the room.’
    • ‘Mrs Greenwood recalls hearing the wails and screams of patients in the night and her first death in the wards.’
    • ‘The noise downstairs escalated quickly from whispers and murmuring voices to sobs and wails.’
    • ‘Screaming guitars and tortured wails were the tools used to pound the passion into each song and the listeners into dejected submission.’
    • ‘Last year's plaintive wails about the attacks on A Beautiful Mind are child's play in comparison.’
    • ‘You no longer fearfully leap to the scene of every scream - only those with the distinctive wail of pain.’
    • ‘The sound of a baby's wail echoed down the corridor.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘More screams and wails of pain hung in the air, and then she heard her name.’
    • ‘Tate's sobs and the anguished wails of relatives will not do much to change that.’
    • ‘I'll be listening for a few wails of despair from disappointed guys.’
    howl, bawl, yowl, keening
    View synonyms
    1. 1.1 A prolonged high-pitched sound.
      ‘the wail of an air-raid siren’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘Telephone users in the city these days have been treated to a sound resembling a ghoulish wail, if they inadvertently misplace the receiver.’
      • ‘They arrived in the capital to the mournful wail of air raid sirens.’
      • ‘The end of the working day in the tea garden is marked by the wail of an air-raid siren.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘Traffic is steady and far off he hears the wail of sirens.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘But, in general, the wail of jazz trumpets and the melancholy echoes of domestic chaos remind you that Elysian Fields resounds with desperation.’
      • ‘Trees absorb the siren wails, clanging of trash cans, and other sounds of urban life.’
      • ‘The sirens were in full alert, screeching wails filling their ears.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘She pressed her remote control gadget and the car burst into siren wails with lights flashing.’
      • ‘Suddenly amid wails of screaming engines, plumes of smoke and burning rubber, riders and bikes raced down the straight and through the first corner.’
      • ‘The bleeping from the life support monitor becomes a monotone wail as it signals the death of the patient connected to it.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘The buzzer near his head sounded off blaring wails of irritating noise.’
      • ‘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 pow-pow-pow of gunshots was a familiar sound, as was the wail of police sirens.’


[no object]
  • 1Utter a wail.

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