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From Middle French ineffable (modern French ineffable), from Latin ineffābilis, from in- (not) +‎ effor (utter) +‎ -bilis (-able).



ineffable (not comparable)

  1. Beyond expression in words; unspeakable. [from 1450]
    Synonyms: indescribable, inexpressible, unspeakable; see also Thesaurus:indescribable, Thesaurus:incomprehensible
    Antonym: (archaic) effable
    • 1750, “Theodora”, Thomas Morell (lyrics), George Frideric Handel (music)‎[1]:
      Devotion bids aspire to nobler things, to boundless love, and joys ineffable: and such her expectation from kind Heav'n.
    • 1919, W[illiam] Somerset Maugham, chapter 39, in The Moon and Sixpence, [New York, N.Y.]: Grosset & Dunlap Publishers [], →OCLC:
      Stroeve was trying to express a feeling which he had never known before, and he did not know how to put it into common terms. He was like the mystic seeking to describe the ineffable.
    • 1990, Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman, Good Omens:
      God does not play dice with the universe; He plays an ineffable game of his own devising, which might be compared, from the perspective of any of the other players, to being involved in an obscure and complex version of poker in a pitch dark room, with blank cards, for infinite stakes, with a dealer who won't tell you the rules, and who smiles all the time.
    • 2012, Gay Watson, Stephen Batchelor, Guy Claxton, The Psychology of Awakening: Buddhism, science, and our day-to-day lives[2]:
      As Alan Watts (1961) wrote, it involves trying to speak the unspeakable, scrute the inscrutable and eff the ineffable.
  2. Forbidden to be uttered; taboo.
    Synonyms: taboo, unspeakable, unutterable

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Related terms[edit]




Borrowed from Latin ineffābilis.



ineffable (plural ineffables)

  1. ineffable (unable to be expressed in words)
    • 1837 Louis Viardot, L’Ingénieux Hidalgo Don Quichotte de la Manchefr.Wikisource, translation of El ingenioso hidalgo Don Quijote de la Mancha by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Chapter I:
      Il lui parut convenable et nécessaire, aussi bien pour l’éclat de sa gloire que pour le service de son pays, de se faire chevalier errant, de s’en aller par le monde, avec son cheval et ses armes, chercher les aventures, et de pratiquer tout ce qu’il avait lu que pratiquaient les chevaliers errants, redressant toutes sortes de torts, et s’exposant à tant de rencontres, à tant de périls, qu’il acquît, en les surmontant, une éternelle renommée. Il s’imaginait déjà, le pauvre rêveur, voir couronner la valeur de son bras au moins par l’empire de Trébizonde. Ainsi emporté par de si douces pensées et par l’ineffable attrait qu’il y trouvait, il se hâta de mettre son désir en pratique.
      It seemed to him appropriate and necessary, as much for his own glory as for the service of his country, that he should become a knight-errant, and go about the world, with his horse and his weapons, looking for adventures, and practising everything that he had read that knights-errant practised, redressing all sorts of wrongs, and exposing themselves to so many encounters, to so many perils, that he should gain, in surmounting them, eternal fame. He already imagined himself, the poor dreamer, seeing himself crowned at least by the emperor of Trebizond. So carried away was he by such pleasant thoughts and by the ineffable attraction that he found in them, he hurried to put his desire into practice.
    Synonyms: inénarrable, indicible

Further reading[edit]

Middle French[edit]


ineffable m or f (plural ineffables)

  1. ineffable (unable to be expressed in words)