Intermediate+ Word of the Day: wave

wave (noun, verb) /weɪv/ LISTEN

A wave breaking in the ocean

Is this man waving hello or goodbye?

A wave is most commonly a movement in the surface of water, the hand movement we use for greeting, or any other gesture resembling that. In physics, a wave is a disturbance sent out or across from one point to another in a medium. Figuratively, a wave is any sudden emotion or rush of feelings or a period of extreme heat or cold. Mass movements are also called waves. To wave means ‘to move up and down or back and forth,’ as waves do, or to greet with a hand gesture.

Example sentences

  • Lucy stood on the beach, watching the waves roll into shore.
  • I saw my friends on the other side of the room and gave them a wave.
  • The amplitude and frequency of the waves define what color light we see.
  • As the lion started to run toward him, Bill felt a wave of fear.
  • Britain has been experiencing a wave of hot weather over the bank holiday weekend.
  • There was a wave of demonstrations against the war.
  • People lined the streets and waved small flags as the royal procession passed.
  • Pat turned and waved to them as she left.

Words often used with wave

heatwave: a usually prolonged period of very hot weather. Example: “France experienced a heatwave in the summer of 2003.”

Mexican wave (also called just wave): spectators at a sports game standing up in sections to produce a wave-like effect. Example: “The crowd performed several Mexican waves during the game.”

crime wave: a series of crimes, usually within a particular area. Example: “New York residents are asking police what they intend to do about the recent crime wave that has been sweeping the city.”

In pop culture

The song Waves by Dutch singer Mr. Probz has lots of wave and water imagery. Listen for him singing “My face above the water; my feet can’t touch the ground,” “Wave after wave” and “Slowly drifting,” and “It feels like I’m drowning” (drowning is when somebody dies in the water).

Did you know?

You may sometimes hear the expression “make waves” used to mean stir up trouble. For example, someone might say, “My neighbors’ dogs are sometimes really noisy, but I don’t want to make waves by confronting them about it.” Another similar expression is “don’t rock the boat.”

Other forms

wavy (adjective), waving (adjective), wave-like (adjective)


Wave dates back to the mid-14th century, in the form of the Old English verb wafian (meaning to move back and forth), and later the Middle English verb waven, but its roots can be traced all the way back to the Proto-Indo-European stem webh-, meaning ‘to move back and forth’ or ‘to weave.’ This is also the origin of several other English words, like weave and waver. Wave was first used as a noun in the 16th century, and the meaning of ‘moving a hand to say hello or goodbye’ came about in the late 17th century. It was first used in physics in 1932.

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