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Presumably from *whistful, from whist (silent) + -ful, based on older wistly. It is implausible that it derives from wishful, the required sound change being wishful*wisfulwistful, which could not occur in Modern English, particularly not with wishful continuing in use. However, the sense of “longing” appears to be influenced by wishful, making wistful an ambiguous poetic word.[1]


  • IPA(key): /ˈwɪstfəl/
  • (file)


wistful (comparative more wistful, superlative most wistful)

  1. Full of longing or yearning.
    His eyes grew wistful as he recalled his university days.
    • 1909, Archibald Marshall [pseudonym; Arthur Hammond Marshall], “A Court Ball”, in The Squire’s Daughter, New York, N.Y.: Dodd, Mead and Company, published 1919, →OCLC, page 1:
      Her grey eyes, looking out on the violet of the night sky, the trees, and the crowd of hilarious onlookers who had not been invited to Buckingham Palace, had a patient and wistful expression.
  2. Sad and thoughtful.

Derived terms[edit]