Word of the Day


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Liz Potter
Written by Liz Potter


to complain or say that you are disappointed about something

View the full definition in the Macmillan Dictionary.

Origin and usage

The verb bemoan comes from the Old English ‘bemǣnan’ meaning to complain or lament. It was first used in its current form in the 16th century.


Bemoan is one of a group of English verbs starting be-, where the effect of the prefix is to turn an intransitive verb into a transitive one. So to wail is to cry out in pain or sorrow, while to bewail something is to complain strongly about it. Bemoan fits with this pattern: to moan is to complain, and to bemoan something is to complain about it. The ‘something’ is important: typical objects of the verb are nouns like ‘lack’, ‘dearth‘, ‘absence’, ‘decline’, ‘failure’ and ‘loss’, along with ‘fact’.  You do not usually bemoan people, yet the other day I saw someone hoping she would not turn into ‘a decrepit old woman bemoaning young people with their whole lives in front of them’. The writer seemed to be using bemoan to mean ‘moan at’ or even ‘nag’, rather than ‘complain about’. I haven’t yet seen this meaning used widely, but it will be interesting to see if it catches on.


“Some people in the art world bemoan the hedge fund millionaires spending freely to acquire ostentatious displays of wealth and coolth for their giddily chic designer duplexes. Others bemoan art being treated as a commodity. But most of the bemoaning is because the art world is stuffed full of bemoaners, bemoaning about everything.”
(Charles Saatchi)

Related words

complain, grumble, whinge

Browse related words in the Macmillan Thesaurus.

About the author

Liz Potter

Liz Potter

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