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From Middle English wo, wei, wa, from Old English , wēa, from Proto-Germanic *wai, whence also Dutch wee, German weh, Danish ve, Yiddish וויי (vey). Ultimately from Proto-Indo-European *wai. Compare Latin vae, French ouais, Ancient Greek οὐαί (ouaí), Persian وای (vây) (Turkish vay, a Persian borrowing), and Armenian վայ (vay).



woe (countable and uncountable, plural woes)

  1. grief; sorrow; misery; heavy calamity.
    • Milton
      Thus saying, from her side the fatal key, / Sad instrument of all our woe, she took.
    • Alexander Pope
      [They] weep each other's woe.
  2. A curse; a malediction.
    • South
      Can there be a woe or curse in all the stores of vengeance equal to the malignity of such a practice?


Derived terms[edit]


woe (comparative more woe, superlative most woe)

  1. (obsolete) woeful; sorrowful
    • Robert of Brunne
      His clerk was woe to do that deed.
    • Chaucer
      Woe was this knight and sorrowfully he sighed.
    • Spenser
      And looking up he waxed wondrous woe.