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Definition of vain:

  • (adjective) characteristic of false pride; having an exaggerated sense of self-importance
  • (adjective) unproductive of success

Sentence Examples:

The preference for which Dennis, asserting the cause of Dryden, had raved and thundered in vain, began, by degrees, to be assigned to the elder bard; and many a poet sheltered his harsh verses and inequalities under an assertion that he belonged to the school of Dryden.

The strange power we call "life," doubly mysterious when manifested in an organism so simple as this, so open to our search, seems to challenge us to discover its secret, and, armed with our glittering lenses and our flashing stands of exquisite workmanship, we search intently, but in vain.

Joe, although he trembled with ill-suppressed rage at this street beggar's impudence to openly insult him in such barefaced manner, held his peace for the moment, as he tried in vain to fathom how and where the mendicant had learned to call him by his correct name.

That I have not written has scarcely been my fault, but my misfortune rather, for I have been quite unstrung and overcome by agitation and anxiety, and thought that I should be able to tell you at last of being calmer and happier, but it was all in vain.

It will devolve on you, meanwhile, to obtain grace by your prayers, that we may the more readily, because more confidently, recur to a subject which needs attentive minds; and it may be that the pious knocker at the door will discover what the bold explorer seeks in vain.

The beams of the sun had not yet fallen upon the light veil of mist that hovered over the tranquil bosom of the river Severn, and rose and gathered itself into folds, as if preparing for departure at the approach of an enemy it were in vain to resist.

When he considered it necessary to curtail his needs, wore an old coat and gave up wine-drinking, everybody considered it eccentric and vain originality; but when he spent large sums in organizing a chase, or building an unusual, luxurious cabinet, everybody praised his taste and sent him valuable gifts.

They had never seen him display any vain or gratuitous passion, and their idea was, that at that distance, and at the head of an army of foreigners, who had no other bond of union but victory, he had judged it indispensable to preserve a select and devoted body.

In vain was it privately suggested by the most moderate of the Parliamentary commissioners, that it was expedient to close on any terms, and unite with than to humble a party whose desperate purposes, supported by the popularity of their pretensions, threatened destruction to all their opponents.

At the same time he was too jealous and vain to let others step in and help themselves to some of his laurels, notably the two young Indians, as he called them, for none of the older lads, his fellow-pupils for years past, ever dreamed of disputing his position.

Its mate, which was poised on a rose bough, flew straight to it, and curled round and round about the small slain body, and piteously bewailed its fate, and mourned, refusing to be comforted, agitating the air with trembling wings, and giving out vain cries of grief.

Tall houses, all front and windows, were stuck up here and there; sometimes with a low fisherman's cottage between then, whose sinking roof and bulging walls looked as if, like the frog in the fable, it had burst in the vain attempt to rival its majestic neighbor.

Amid the wild and vain clamor of the multitude in 1861, with its conventional and old-fashioned notion of war as a thing of trumpets and glittering armies, the North seems wholly to have ignored its fleet; and yet in the beginning this resource was its only strength.

Moreover, when he took the opportunity, by way of expostulation, to express his sympathy with the rejected applicants, who had been kept "hanging about" in vain, she was able to make a show of justification, urging it had been necessary for her to have the widest latitude of choice.

Vain, indolent, selfish, with a highly cultivated taste for luxury and neatness in her personal appearance, she was distinguished by all those little irritating habits and traits for which nothing but an affectionate heart (a thing in her case conspicuous by its absence) can atone.

It would be consequently a vain attempt to try, at this moment, to write a summary of universal history, which should propose to develop all the varied forms of production in order to deduce from them afterwards all the rest of human activity, in a particular and circumstantial fashion.

In vain through successive ages, gathering strength and eloquence from those celestial words, have I labored to earn my pardon, by filling with commiseration and love hearts that were overflowing with envy and bitterness, by inspiring many a soul with a sacred horror of oppression and injustice.

It is then in vain for the foremost to retreat or even to stop; they are pressed on by the hindmost ranks, who, seeing no danger but from the hunters, goad on those before them till the whole are precipitated and the shore is strewed with their dead bodies.

As she passed the second time, he remained like one who has been charmed, with a leg of mutton in his hand, while his stout employer, waiting in vain for him to pass it to him, poured forth a round volley of oaths, threatening the youth with a cleaver.

Clemens sought in vain to prevent the use by others of his pseudonym, "Mark Twain," by incorporating a company with this name, planning thus to secure the exclusive use of the name for this corporation and practically obtaining a continuing trade-mark protection for it under this device.

Its mate, which was poised on a rose bough, flew straight to it, and curled round and round about the small slain body, and piteously bewailed its fate, and mourned, refusing to be comforted, agitating the air with trembling wings, and giving out vain cries of grief.

When they were seated in the coach which was to convey them from the quay, Laura begged her father to prevail on the driver to wait till the unusual concourse of carts and sledges should pass, and heard with astonishment that the delay would be in vain.

He had a brother, Richard, some ten years his junior, and the two were of such different types of character, each so pronounced in his kind, that, after vain attempts to get along together, they parted for good, heedless of each other henceforth, pursuing their sundered destinies.

It was all in vain; and as the shadows of evening fell the recall was sounded, and in humiliation and sorrow of heart the defeated princes sent to offer terms of capitulation, and to ask for what ransom they and their troops would be allowed to depart.

Convinced at length that all his researches in the tent were in vain, he rushed out, prowling about like a wild beast, persuaded that if by a miracle she had succeeded in escaping, alone in the night, half dressed, wandering in the desert, he should easily find her again.

The whole movement towards spirituality in the human sphere would be vain, and all distinctively human life would be a meaningless contradiction, if the individuals in whom alone the spiritual life breaks forth spontaneously were included solely and entirely in the stream of the process of nature.

That I had some talent for scribbling, I was vain enough to believe, and my estimate of the ability I possessed was sufficiently high to induce me to think that I could give a peculiar interest to the columns of a weekly paper, were such a publication entirely under my control.

For it is vain and impotent to suppose that in regard to morals and religion every mind is able to find its way by free thought, when in regard to bodily health, or even in questions of finance, the free thought of the amateur is acknowledged to end usually in confusion.

A large quantity of straw, set on fire at the mouths of the caverns in which the infidels were concealed, soon forced them to issue from their retreats, and such was the animosity of the conquerors, that the bewildered and trembling multitude implored their pity in vain.

The capacity of this single branch was so small that all the heroism of the defenders would have been vain, and the Germans would have entered as conquerors into the old city, if, by a remarkable feat, motors had not been able to replace the feeble railway.

Here I was safe against the chicaneries and whims of superior persons and the constraint of social forms; the moral reward which honest work never withholds was worth more to me than all the vain glamour of rank and position coveted by all the world round me.

Besides the gratification of vanity and revenge (for she had attempted in vain to seduce Herod), she greatly desired the possession of Judea; but as Antony was equally in want of money to sustain him in his contest with Octavius, Herod supplied him, and continued to reign.

Here and there a weak dilapidated currant-moth, the very epitome of surrender to circumstance, tried in vain to arrest its enforced flight among the swaying stalks of gray melancholy thistles, the only living things who seemed to find the temper of the day congenial with their own.

Cousin's philosophy, we have shown our ignorance of his real doctrine, our contempt for his express declarations, and our philosophical incapacity, and the reviewer thinks one may search in vain through any number of magazine articles of equal length, for one more full of errors and fallacies than ours.

Perhaps what they do a little resembles the task of the children who spade up heaps of sand at the edge of the sea, laboring in vain, for all they have built will soon be overthrown, and that, no doubt, is true of collections of books and pictures also.

Turning his head wildly towards either shore in the vain hope of obtaining assistance, he had now observed us as we stood on the projecting rock, and his voice, raised in cries for assistance, reached us, even through the din of the cataract and above the whirl of waters.

I can only express the hope that I may not attempt in vain to follow your footsteps in the responsible situation which I fill, and that the comparison may not be so much to my disadvantage, when in future times the results of your administration are compared with mine.

The romance in which the manners and character of the Indians are portrayed might lead us to attribute to these people a loftiness of soul for which it would be vain to look in the present day, and which without much skepticism we may assert they never really possessed.

On the other hand, General Sherman asserts that his "troops were in line of battle and ready" before the engagement began, and he personally assures the writer that after the battle he offered in vain a reward for the body of any person killed by a bayonet-wound.

Whether it all left at once or whether the action was prolonged we do not know, but we may try in vain to imagine the awful uproar and fearful volcanic phenomena exhibited when a planet was cleft in twain and a new moon was born into the Solar System.

It is in vain that the attempt has been made to extenuate the atrocious and senseless cruelties of this time by extolling the great legislative projects of the Convention, or pleading the dire necessity of a land attacked on every side by the foreigner, and rent with civil war.

The emperor, who had courted death in vain, recognized the truth, and, desirous to spare the sacrifice of life produced by the continued cannonade, ordered, on his own responsibility, the hoisting of a white flag on the highest point of the defenses, as a signal of surrender.

Miss Cooper may strive in vain, with benevolent intent, to christen her favorite spring-blossoms "May-Wings" and "Gay-Wings," and "Fringe-Cup" and "Squirrel-Cup," and "Cool-Wort" and "Bead-Ruby"; there is no conceivable reason why these should not be the familiar appellations, except the irresistible fact that they are not.

Rivers run in their destined courses, and pay constant tribute to old ocean, and even the sparkling brook that bubbles over its pebbly bottom, dances not in vain, for the grass upon its margin assumes a deeper green and marks the threading of its silver current.

Tracy, the mother of this various progeny, had been somewhat of a beauty in her day, albeit much too large and masculine for the taste of ordinary mortals; and though now very considerably past forty, the vain vast female was still ambitious of compliment, and greedy of admiration.

The old ladies unanimously agreed that he was a most agreeable, interesting young man; and though the young ones did pretend to run him down among themselves, calling him ugly, and so on, it was only in the vain hope of dissuading each other from thinking of him.

Like many handsome old men, he was inordinately vain, and imagined himself irresistible; and when he persecuted me with attentions that might have compromised a woman less prudent and prudish than I bore myself, I determined to force him to an offer of his hand, to marry him.

The bull was rushing frantically about, bellowing and snorting and looking in vain for him, and at last, turning his attention to the marquee, he dashed into it, ripping up the canvas and overturning the table, smashing the dishes, and altogether making a most terrific commotion.

When it has been misapplied and assumed the forms of vague curiosity, restless ambition, vain glory, pride or oppression, the being is degraded, it sinks in the scale of existence and still belongs to the earth or an inferior system, till its errors are corrected by painful discipline.

The realities of the matter, like a stone plashed into a limpid fountain, had destroyed the reflection of the objects around, which, till this act of violence, lay slumbering on the crystal surface, and I tried in vain to re-establish the picture which had been so rudely broken.

They comprised Homer, Virgil, Livy, and other ancients; likewise two Latin lexicons, which looked extravagant until you observed how each did but supplement the other's deficiencies, and this so imperfectly that their owner was still liable to search in vain for words between Mo and Na.

The principle of unification which it advocates and with which it stands identified they have misconceived as a shallow attempt at uniformity, its repeated assertions of the reality of supernatural agencies they have condemned as a vain belief in magic, and the glory of its idealism they have rejected as mere utopia.

Whether he has found out about some schoolgirl peccadillo of Miss Lethbridge's, and is dangling it over her head, Damocles sword fashion, I can't tell, because he won't tell; though he looks offensively wise when I tease him, and I have tried in vain, on my own account, to discover.

The snowfall ceased, to give way to the grayness of heavy, scudding clouds and the spasmodic flurries of driving white, as the gusty wind caught up the loose fall of the drifts and whirled it on, like harassed, lost souls seeking in vain a place they could abide.

Tracy, the mother of this various progeny, had been somewhat of a beauty in her day, albeit much too large and masculine for the taste of ordinary mortals; and though now very considerably past forty, the vain vast female was still ambitious of compliment, and greedy of admiration.

This scene was enough to sweep away all thought of this being a king and his courtiers, for nothing could have been less suggestive thereof, and the lad looked in vain for one of them who might have been wounded or so wearied out that he had been carried in.

They looked up wistfully at me, making a few desperate efforts to reach the branch on which I was seated; but finding that all their attempts were vain, first one started off in the direction the other pack had taken, then another and another went away.

To hook a fish of ten feet long, and to get him on board, are two different things; and our good medico was very nearly drawn overboard in a vain attempt to do the latter without assistance, which, just then, all hands on board were too much engaged to afford.

It was more than thirty years before the Spanish explorers found the rich cities which Columbus sought; and a century after the voyage of Magellan the vain hope of reaching the South Sea by some middle or northwest passage still inspired the activities of French and English adventurers.

Having sent my meal away almost untouched, I called a hansom and drove to the nearest theater, but the picture of Phyllis crying and calling for me in vain kept me company throughout the performance, and brought me home more miserable at the end than I had started.

I wonder not at the beginning or progress of my first love, but at the manner of its end, asking myself incredulously what motive or what notion had power to hold back the flood of youth, seeking almost in vain to re-discover the spring that moved me then.

The only perceptible change which they appear to undergo in the cells, is to have the large quantity of water evaporated from them, which is added from thoughtlessness, or from the vain expectation that it will be just so much water sold for honey, to the defrauded purchaser!

Cassidy had returned from exercising the animal and himself over two miles of rocky hillside in the vain endeavor to give it his opinion of burros and sundry chastisements, he was requested, as owner of the beast, to give his counsel as to the best way of securing eighteen breakfasts.

During the next two months death shook him by the hand in vain, for he had fortunately an excellent constitution; "And, though the proportions of his left leg," whispered I, "have been restored by a slice out of a friendly cork-tree, he is, as you see, quite recovered."

Moreover, it is but a dreary recital of the gradual encroachment of the Whites on the lands of the Indians, the vain endeavors of the latter to repress them, and a record of many cruel acts of savage warfare, burning villages, midnight massacre, and scenes of terrible sufferings.

A junior at the Bar in course of his speech began to use a simile of "the eagle soaring high above the mists of the earth, winning its daring flight against a midday sun till the contemplation becomes too dazzling for humanity, and mortal eyes gaze after it in vain."

The effects of pride and vanity are of consequence only to the proud and the vain, and tend to no further ill than what is personal to themselves, in preventing their progress in anything that is worthy and laudable, and creating envy instead of emulation of superior virtue.

I turned away, no less disgusted at the frivolity that could only see in the dreadful event that took place the temporary interruption to a vain and silly promenade, than at the savage coarseness that could revel in the pain common misfortune gave him the privilege of inflicting.

Walter and Ralph hastened from point to point encouraging the men and joining in the defense where the pressure was hottest; and at last, after two hours of vain effort and suffering great loss, the assailants drew off, and the garrison had breathing time.

The king looked quietly at him; but the dauphin, terrified at the looks of the angry man and his loud voice, burst into a violent fit of weeping and sobbing, and Marie Antoinette and the little Theresa strove in vain to quiet the little fellow by gentle words.

During the time I served on the board, and for years since then, women guardians all over the country have striven in vain to have the law reformed in order to ameliorate conditions which break the hearts of women to see, but which apparently affect men very little.

Thus proceeding with calm and quiet self-possession, and with unceasing perseverance, few cuts being made but at the best advantage, and no stroke of his cutting-tools being struck in vain, the work proceeded with such despatch as to accomplish the extraordinary results we have just described.

Then, too, a youth, in the company of an elderly female relative, had gone through a severe process of neck wringing, several seats in front of her, in the vain hope that her interest in the absurd fields of wheat through which they were passing might abate in his favor.

Amongst those empty favors of hers, there is none that so much pleases vain humor natural to my country, as an authentic bull of a Roman burgess-ship, that was granted me when I was last there, glorious in seals and gilded letters, and granted with all gracious liberality.

That evening the bells rang out another peal, and thousands wept aloud under the brilliantly-lighted windows of the palace, for behind them, on a black-draped bed of state, lay the beautiful corpse of the princess, and her people's love stretched its arms towards her in vain.

Crops may ripen upon your land, but you cannot touch them against the will of your tenant; and if corn be dear, or at famine price, you will "In vain another's mighty store behold," grown upon your land, lying upon your land, and to be deposited in your own barns.

Such a distinction, and such alliances, called the attention of those at the head of our Revolution; who, after attempting in vain to blow up hereditary thrones by the aid of sans-culotte incendiaries, seated sans-culottes upon thrones, that they might degrade what was not yet ripe for destruction.

The foundation of incredulity no doubt is ignorance, but too often we find men of refined education and feeling the most easily imposed upon by incredible assertions; we seldom experience as much enthusiasm in the possession of any object as in the pursuit, more especially if that pursuit be vain.

The piece of news, casually mentioned one day in the course of conversation, thrilled her with a sense of overpowering relief, a suggestion, against which she struggled in vain, of possible accidents, of all the things that might reasonably happen to those who travel by sea or land.

In vain Wren, who had built vault after vault and knew to a nicety what weight each of his arches would bear, explained the perfect security of the upper room; the anxious man could not be pacified, and the architect promised to put two columns below.

Pressed, pushed onward by powerful arms, resistance utterly in vain, the two companions found themselves at the same moment in the open space just as the drummer broke into the circle, and, playing his drumsticks with powerful and zealous hands, he called the crowd to order.

By this time the rival Canadian traders had carried the trade beyond the French limits, although, for reasons to be disclosed, all their activity was in vain, so far as material results either to themselves or their employers or capitalists were concerned, not to mention the aborigines themselves.

While watching the cavalcade of women and baggage, I looked long in vain for my own troop of four horses, but at last descried them trotting without a guide in the rear of the column, their natural sagacity or perhaps thirst having induced them to follow their comrades.

And then began to assail her that last and subtlest of temptations, the thought that already she had taken an irrevocable step, that an endeavor to return would only be trouble spent in vain, that the easy course was, in truth, the only one now open to her.

The answers bring accusations and recriminations, a parade of quarrels and dissensions, angry revelations of infidelity, disgust, espionage, lies, hatred, and, when the Court exercises its legal power of depriving both parents of the custody of the child, the torture of vain regret and empty lives.

As the voice uttered these strange and not altogether consoling words, the Baron stroked his beard, pulled his mustache, and racked his brains in the vain endeavor to bring to mind any lover with whom it was at all likely that his daughter should have eloped.

Don Quixote died in his bed at last, talked down by petty common-place, acknowledging his madness, and calling his noble life a mistake; how much more shall I, whose life has been the more ignoble for some transient gleams of splendor which have crossed its path in vain!

I have sought in vain for another, for I would not wish at any time, and especially just now, to add an irritating word to our disagreements; therefore, whether I am believed or not, I declare that I do not mean to impugn the intentions nor the morality of anybody.

For sorrow of the higher sort brings with it heights of thought and consolations with which to bear it, but the daily struggle to live, the petty cares and vain effort to make too little suffice, eats out heart and brain, with no uplifting to render it endurable.

At that period the Thames was infested with the worst of characters, and scarcely any proposition, let it involve what measure of guilt it might, could be made in vain to many of the desperadoes who were ostensibly watermen, but really, robbers and cut-throats of the vilest description.

Many a time had Billy, Bud Morgan, Arthur Cameron or some other member of the famous patrol, after trying in vain to solve a knotty problem, turned hopefully to the assistant scout master; and seldom had their sublime confidence in his ability to find a remedy been misplaced.

She might, the next moment, see him she loved lying a corpse before her eyes: she might find the greater part of her apprehensions vain; but yet fear had the predominance, and it required a great effort of resolution to make her open the door and look in.

It would be vain to attempt to describe the joy and delight experienced by little Harry at this change, the more so inasmuch as there was a large piece of ground attached to the back part of the dwelling, where he could play when the weather was fine.

The thing was preposterous on such an occasion, and very extraordinary with respect to him: in vain had he the finest point-lace, with the largest and best powdered peruke imaginable his dress, magnificent enough for any other purpose, was not at all proper for this entertainment.

After a long and vain search, Valeria succeeded at last in seizing the handkerchief in the hand of Adela, who being now obliged to become a seeker in her turn, retired to a fountain, and turning her back to her companions, waited till it was time to begin the search.

She had been for many weeks preparing herself, through pain and care, to please this very male gorilla, whom in former days she waited on and cooed to and coaxed, without a thought except of the pleasure she had and the pleasure she hoped for, although in vain.

I was not in the least surprised that a disappointment of this nature should affect a woman a little; but I own it did astonish me that she should appear in public, on such an occasion, in all the ostentation of sorrow, like a young widow vain of her weeds.

What must be the state of that country where worth, talent, and the disinterested exercise of every faculty of a vigorous and exalted mind, were in vain devoted to the public good; where, indeed, they only marked out their possessor for a victim to the shrine of faction?

As though some giant rock had advanced into the sea and forced back the waters that had buffeted it, so did the Russian columns press down against the spray of soldiery which fretted their edge with fire and steel, and contended in vain against their weight.

Poor Miss Annie Laurie has been content to resign the reverence, in a vain attempt at equality; but Lithgow, who is no critic by nature, remembers gratefully her true kindness, and smiles only as little as possible at the fictitious youthfulness which Miss Annie herself has come to believe in.