Definitions

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • adj. Expressing sorrow; mournful or melancholy.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • adj. Sorrowful, mournful or melancholic.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • adj. Repining; complaining; lamenting.
  • adj. Expressive of sorrow or melancholy; mournful; sad.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • 1. Lamenting; complaining; giving utterance to sorrow or grief; repining.
  • Expressive of sorrow or melancholy; mournful; sad: said of things: as, a plaintive sound; a plaintive air; a plaintive song.
  • Synonyms Plaintive, Querulous, woful, rueful. Plaintive and querulous agree in expressing weakness. He who is querulous is ready to find fault over trivial matters, and in a weak, captious, tired way; there is a tone recognized as querlous. Plaintive is rarely said of persons; a plaintive tone or utterance conveys a subdued regret or lamentation : as, the plaintive note of the mourning dove. See petulant.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • adj. expressing sorrow

Etymologies

Middle English plaintif, from Old French, aggrieved, lamenting, from plaint, complaint; see plaint.
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)
From Old French plaintif ("aggrieved, lamenting"), from plainte ("lament, complaint"); see plaint. (Wiktionary)

Examples

  • The boys nearest the dragonet tried to anticipate his direction, hoping to Impress him, but he lurched out of their immediate circle, staggering across the sands, his call plaintive, desperate until the next group of boys turned.

    Dragon Drums

  • Akka from Kebnekaise! they cried in plaintive tones.

    Further Adventures of Nils

  • First her sweet voice in plaintive accents chains*

    Canto I

  • The “symphony” involved tuba, trumpet, oboe, violin, percussion and a speaker who read the Lord’s Prayer in plaintive and dramatic Russian.

    Bang on a Piano All-Stars

  • And at once I heard something to which I had paid no attention before: that is, the plaintive whining of the telegraph wires.

    The Schoolmistress and other stories

  • GRACE: In a civil case the plaintive is the one accusing someone of something.

    CNN Transcript Nov 9, 2004

  • Here these creatures had harnessed the grinding workings of the planets themselves, all to survive, all to call a plaintive note into a still and silent sky.

    Across The Sea Of Suns

  • If at times the voice of the song is plaintive, that is no more than a reflection of broken homesteads and sweltering emigrant ships.

    The Irish Mind

  • But he is always cheerful, in spite of his so-called plaintive note, from which he gets one of his names, and always amiable.

    Birds in the Bush

  • Often do we recall his plaintive words, applied to this very community: "Let no man congratulate himself when he beholds the child of his bosom or the city of his birth increasing in magnitude and importance."

    Modern Eloquence: Vol II, After-Dinner Speeches E-O

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  • I send this by a special messenger who has business only so far as Barnet, because you shall have no need to write again; knowing how you love writing: and knowing likewise, that misfortune makes people plaintive.

    Mrs. Howe to Clarissa Harlowe, Clarissa by Samuel Richardson

    January 4, 2008