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Definition of wraith

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If you see your own double, you're in trouble, at least if you believe old superstitions. The belief that a ghostly twin's appearance portends death is one common to many cultures. In German folklore, such an apparition is called a Doppelgänger (literally, "double goer"); in Scottish lore, they are wraiths . The exact origin of the word wraith is misty, however, and etymologists can only trace it back to the early 16th century—in particular to a 1513 translation of Virgil's Aeneid by Gavin Douglas (the Scotsman used wraith to name apparitions of both the dead and the living). In current English, wraith has taken on additional, less spooky, meanings; it now often suggests a shadowy—but not necessarily scary—lack of substance.

  • bogie
  • familiar spirit
  • hant [ dialect ]
  • haunt [ chiefly dialect ]
  • materialization
  • fantasm
  • poltergeist
  • spectre

Examples of wraith in a Sentence

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'wraith.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History

origin unknown

1513, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

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Cite this Entry

“Wraith.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary , Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/wraith. Accessed 17 Oct. 2023.

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Nglish: Translation of wraith for Spanish Speakers

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Definition of 'wraith'

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wraith in British English

Wraith in american english, examples of 'wraith' in a sentence wraith, trends of wraith.

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  • 1.1 Etymology
  • 1.2 Pronunciation
  • 1.3.1 Derived terms
  • 1.3.2 Translations
  • 1.4 References
  • 1.5 Further reading

English [ edit ]

Etymology [ edit ].

First attested 1513, in a Middle Scots translation of the Aeneid . [1] [2] [3]

The word has no certain etymology. J. R. R. Tolkien favored a link with writhe . Also compared are Scots warth and Old Norse vǫrðr ( “ watcher, guardian ” ) , whence Icelandic vörður ( “ guard ” ) . See also wray / bewray , from Middle English wreien . Perhaps from wrath as a wraith is a vengeful spirit.

Pronunciation [ edit ]

  • enPR : rāth , IPA ( key ) : /ɹeɪθ/
  • Rhymes: -eɪθ

Noun [ edit ]

wraith ( plural wraiths )

  • 1912 February–July, Edgar Rice Burroughs , “Under the Moons of Mars”, in The All-Story , New York, N.Y.: Frank A. Munsey Co. , →OCLC ; republished as “Sola Tells Me Her Story”, in A Princess of Mars , Chicago, Ill.: A[lexander] C[aldwell] McClurg & Co. , 1917 October, →OCLC , pages 159–160 : We might indeed have been the wraiths of the departed dead upon the dead sea of that dying planet for all the sound or sign we made in passing.
  • 2001 , Joyce Carol Oates , Middle Age: A Romance , paperback edition, Fourth Estate, page 80 : Like wraiths with the impediments of bodies they stumbled in the direction of Salthill faces.

Derived terms [ edit ]

Translations [ edit ], references [ edit ].

  • ^ Gawin Douglas , transl.,(1513), chapter X, in Eneados , lines 81–82: Nor ȝit na vayn wrathys nor gaiſtis quent / Thi char conſtrenyt bakwart forto went Nor yet no vain wraiths nor quaint ghosts / constrained Thy chariot to go backward
  • ^ Gawin Douglas , transl.,(1513), chapter XI, in Eneados , lines 95–96: Syklyke as that, thai ſay, in diuers placis / The wraithis walkis of goiſtis that ar ded Such as that, they say, in diverse places / The wraiths walk of ghosts that are dead
  • ^ Gawin Douglas , transl.,(1513), chapter XI, in Eneados , lines 129–130: Thydder went this wrath or ſchaddo of Ene, / That ſemyt, all abaſyt, faſt to fle Thither went this wraith or shade of Ene, / That seemed, all abased, fast to flee

Further reading [ edit ]

wraith meaning plural

  • Cambridge Dictionary +Plus

Meaning of wraith in English

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  • astral plane
  • astral projection
  • incorporeal
  • necromancer
  • reincarnation

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wraith meaning plural

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From wiktionary , creative commons attribution/share-alike license..

  • noun Plural form of wraith .


Sorry, no etymologies found.

wraith meaning plural

Help support Wordnik (and make this page ad-free) by adopting the word wraiths .

The wraiths were a final measure when a coven was in grave danger.

Kresley Cole Immortals After Dark: The Clan MacRieve Kresley Cole 2010

A Hunger Like No Other Kresley Cole 2006

He brought a cold sweat in his wake, like the wraiths which issued from the mundus on the dies religiosi.

Fortune's Favorites McCullough, Colleen, 1937- 1993

In the philosophy of " wraiths " and "fetches," the appearance of a double, like that which troubled Mistress Affery in her waking dreams of Mr. Flintwinch, has been from time out of mind a signal of alarm.

Myths and Myth-makers: Old Tales and Superstitions Interpreted by Comparative Mythology 1872

But then the "auld gudewife" believed in many other things which her posterity had grown wise enough to reject, -- such as wraiths , witches, spunkies, and the like; and if rallied on the subject she would reply, indignantly, "And did na I my ain sel ', see the fairies dancing in the briken-shaw, one Halloween?"

Tom, The Bootblack or, The Road to Success Horatio Alger 1865

" wraiths " of our ancestors to "revisit the glimpses of the moon" even for such a loyal and patriotic object as the furtherance of Scottish

Archaeological Essays, Vol. 1 James Young Simpson 1840

Another one in Return Of The King – one of the wraiths demands to battle Gandalf … and then they never fight.

What TV or movie death scenes have left you disappointed? | EW.com 2009

A last hollow survival of the days of carnival [in which] a few childish wraiths still played to keep up the pretense that they were alive, betraying by their feverish voices and hectic cheeks the thinness of the masquerade.

Fashion in Dark Times 2009

- I kind of miss the ring- wraiths , now that they're gone.

but WHERE will you get the best EDUCATION? intertribal 2009

Melke and her brother, Hantje, are wraiths , they can turn invisible at will.

2009 March « Items of Interest 2009

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  • a ghostlike image of someone that usually appears to portend death
  • any visible and unidentified apparition
  • a pale, thin, and insubstantial object or person, sometimes without a clear shape

Wraith is almost always associated with horror. The image that pops into most people's minds is a pale, eerie, and looming figure of a woman. Wraith usually refers to the spirit—any gender—that appears before one's death, whether as a peaceful or as an ominous warning. In fiction, wraiths tend to be a bad omen as they are related to death, and characters want to escape them. Wraiths are similar to the idea of the grim reaper or the Angel of Death, but they usually don't follow through with the demise of a person. Wraiths are merely a signal that death is near.

A second use of wraith refers to any ghostly, disturbing entity that makes itself known. They tend to manifest in sinister nature and appearance. Similar to the previous usage, wraiths in this context are likely to be female and pallid in appearance. However, unlike the previous usage, these spirits do not prophesy death. Despite not foreshadowing death, wraiths even in this form are usually an unwelcome haunting.

The final and least common application of the word refers to a wan person or an ambiguously shaped object. Wraith is said to take the place of a person who is sickly, rundown, or generally wispy in nature. People that are called wraiths tend to be suffering from an illness or are close to death. Use of wraith can also illustrate a column of a vaporous substance, such as a pillar of smoke. Whether referring to people or objects, wraith always points to the insubstantial nature of the subject.

Example: The character became drenched in terror when he saw a wraith hovering by his bed.

Example: She quickly ran for shelter after noticing a wraith appear behind her on the unlit street.

Example: After several therapies, the boy's mother began to look more like a wraith than her usual, healthy self.

Derivative Words

Wraithlike is the adjective form of the word, used to describe anything pallid or supernatural in nature.

Example: The full moon looming over the abandoned house gave the young women wraithlike appearances.

Similar Words

A Banshee is very similar to a wraith in that its screech warns someone of their death; however, banshees are specifically female creatures.

Phantom is another word with a meaning similar to wraith . However, a phantom is simply a ghost; it does not warn people of their deaths.

Even though wraith is a commonly used word, the origin still holds some mystery. Most experts point to Scotland in the early sixteenth century where wraithis was used in Aeneid —an epic poem—to describe a ghostly being. This is the theory most supported by evidence, especially as wraith is usually associated with ghosts and other spiritual entities.

Other experts, however, suggest the word takes its root from the Norse word orðr , which means "guardian." This aligns with the definition of wraith as a spirit that appears to forewarn death, similar to how a guardian angel would appear before someone's death.

A final candidate is the Irish and Gaelic root word arrach , which means "specter" or "apparation." This term relates to wraithis in that it defines wraith as a paranormal creature. Even with these three words, experts still are not sure of the exact origin of the word wraith .

Literary Reference

From Anna Quindlen's One True Thing:

"My mother spoke, alive again inside my brain...She spoke and I listened to her, because I was afraid if I didn't her voice would gradually fade away, an evanescent wraith of a thing that would narrow to a pinpoint of light and then go out, lost forever, like the Tinker Bell if no one clapped for her."

Here, wraith is being used to describe an insubstantial amount of something. The authors portrays that listening to her mother's voice prevents her mother's disappearance; listening to her speak gives her substance and a clear shape, rather than an unidentifiable, wispy nature.

From Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children:

"..and when Amina Sinai was saying to the wraith of an old white washing-chest, "Go away now - I've seen enough of you,".."

In this passage during a climactic moment in Rushdie's classic, the character is seeing and bidding adieu to wraith of a washing-chest, one of the key objects in the novel.

  • Wispy wraiths wail in the wind.

Halloween, Horror

Bring out the linguist in you! What is your own interpretation of wraith . Did you use wraith in a game? Provide an example sentence or a literary quote.

Wraith (n.)

  • used in similes and metaphors to describe a pale, thin, or insubstantial person or thing. “heart attacks had reduced his mother to a wraith”
  • literary a wisp or faint trace of something. “a sea breeze was sending a gray wraith of smoke up the slopes”

wraith meaning plural

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  • plural of wraith

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