adjective, vain·er, vain·est.

  1. excessively proud of or concerned about one’s own appearance, qualities, achievements, etc.; conceited: a vain dandy.
  2. proceeding from or showing pride in or concern about one’s appearance, qualities, etc.; resulting from or displaying vanity: He made some vain remarks about his accomplishments.
  3. ineffectual or unsuccessful; futile: vain hopes; a vain effort; a vain war.
  4. without real significance, value, or importance; baseless or worthless: vain pageantry; vain display.
  5. Archaic. senseless or foolish.
  1. in vain,
    1. without effect or avail; to no purpose: lives lost in vain; to apologize in vain.
    2. in an improper or irreverent manner: to take God’s name in vain.


  1. inordinately proud of one’s appearance, possessions, or achievements
  2. given to ostentatious display, esp of one’s beauty
  3. worthless
  4. senseless or futile


  1. in vain to no avail; fruitlessly
  2. take someone’s name in vain
    1. to use the name of someone, esp God, without due respect or reverence
    2. jocularto mention someone’s name

c.1300, “devoid of real value, idle, unprofitable,” from Old French vein “worthless,” from Latin vanus “idle, empty,” from PIE *wa-no-, from root *eue- “to leave, abandon, give out” (cf. Old English wanian “to lessen,” wan “deficient;” Old Norse vanta “to lack;” Latin vacare “to be empty,” vastus “empty, waste;” Avestan va- “lack,” Persian vang “empty, poor;” Sanskrit una- “deficient”). Meaning “conceited” first recorded 1690s, from earlier sense of “silly, idle, foolish” (late 14c.). Phrase in vain “to no effect” (c.1300, after Latin in vanum) preserves the original sense. Related: Vainly.

see in vain; take someone’s name in vain.

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