The Meaning of Poignant: What It Is and How To Use It

Do you know the definition of poignant? This guide will provide you with all of the info you need on the word poignant, including its definition, etymology, example sentences, and more!

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What does the word poignant mean?

According to Merriam-Webster Unabridged English Language Dictionary, Dictionary, and Cambridge Dictionary, the adjective poignant, pronounced “ˈpɔɪn yənt” means either something that is distressing and emotionally upsetting or something that is affecting, touching, or moving. In the past, this word was used to mean pungent to the taste or smell, or having a sharp or bitter taste. Now, poignance is closer associated with things that create emotion, such as a poignant story or a poignant memory; you could even be full of poignant grief at a thought of a lost loved one. Poignant reminders create incisive, deep emotions in people.

The word poignant is also present in many other languages to describe something that evokes a strong mental or emotional sensation. This list of translations for the word poignant is provided by Word Sense.

  • Spanish: conmovedor‎
  • Portuguese: pungente‎, emocionante‎, comovente‎
  • Greek: σπαραχτικός‎
  • Finnish: (evoking sharp mental pain) kipeä, arka; (emotionally moving) liikuttava
  • Dutch: schrijnend‎
  • German: ergreifend‎, packend‎, eindringlich‎, anrührend‎, rührend‎, erschütternd‎, bitter‎, quälend‎
  • Italian: emozionante‎, toccante‎, intenso‎ (masc.), commovente‎
  • Scottish Gaelic: tiamhaidh‎
  • Polish: wzruszający‎
  • Maori: whakaaroha‎
  • Japanese: 痛烈な‎ (tsūretsu-na)

How can the word poignant be used in a sentence?

The word poignant can be used in many different ways to describe things that affect the emotions deeply. This word is often used when things are touching. In this example, Bella and Rafy are at a memorial service for their friend that has passed away. The friend’s family has just played a compilation video of many different memories.

Rafy: Hey Bella, you okay?

Bella: Yeah, I will be. That video just brought up a lot of poignant memories for me. I don’t think it really all hit me until now that I won’t be avble to make those memories with her again.

Rafy: I know. I feel the same way. 

Here, Bella uses the word poignant to describe the emotions that the memorial video is making her feel. She is stuck with very emotionally affecting grief and loss and is coming to terms with the passing of her friend. In this next example, Bella and Rafy have just watched a movie together.

Bella: Rafy, you okay?

Rafy: Yeah, sorry. I don’t know why this movie is hitting me so hard. It’s like every piece of dialogue strikes me.

Bella: It’s a very poignant film. The writer did an impeccable job. It’s like she’s in my brain and somehow knows exactly what to say to make me sob. Trust me, the first time I watched it I was a mess.

Here, Bella uses the word poignant to describe the film that they have just seen, as it has made them both feel very strong emotions based on the writing. 

What are synonyms and antonyms for the word poignant?

There are many different words that someone can use in place of the word poignant. These are allied synonyms, which are words and phrases that have the same meaning  as another given word or phrase. Someone might choose to use a synonym in order to avoid repeating themselves, or they might choose to use a synonym to  simply expand their vocabulary and better their understanding of the English language. This list of synonyms for the word poignant is provided by Thesaurus

  • passionate
  • emotional
  • sentimental
  • intense
  • distressing
  • painful
  • disturbing
  • pitiful
  • sad
  • pathetic
  • moving
  • agitating
  • piteous
  • affecting
  • bitter
  • heartrending
  • sorrowful
  • touching
  • upsetting
  • perturbing
  • heartbreaking
  • agonizing
  • impressive

There are also many different words that have the opposite meaning as the word poignant. These are considered antonyms. Antonyms are also very useful to know to expand upon a base vocabulary as well as to better one’s understanding of the English language. The below list of antonyms for the word poignant is also provided by Thesaurus.

  • thick-skinned
  • blah
  • emotionless
  • reserved
  • dispassionate
  • glacial
  • along for the ride
  • quiet
  • unsympathetic
  • cool
  • phlegmatic
  • impassive
  • unimpressionable
  • undemonstrative
  • laid-back
  • hard-boiled
  • unemotional
  • deadpan
  • going with the flow
  • cold
  • unfeeling
  • indifferent
  • obdurate
  • flat
  • frigid
  • hard-hearted
  • insensitive
  • apathetic
  • passionless
  • coldhearted
  • reticent
  • unresponsive
  • marble
  • unexcitable
  • rolling with the punches
  • callous
  • chill
  • uncompassionate
  • heartless
  • listless

What is the origin of the word poignant?

According to Etymonline, the word poignant has been used since the late 14th century to mean painful to some physical or emotional feeling. This can be used to describe things that are bitter or sharp in taste as well as things that affect one’s emotions. This comes from the Old French poignant meaning sharp or pointy and Middle French piquant. The Old French word has been used in the 13th century and it is the present participle of poindre which is a verb that means to prick or sting. The Old French verb poindre comes from the Latin pungere meaning to prick or pierce, but was used figuratively to mean to vex or give trouble. This comes from the Proto-Indo-European root pruk meaning to prick. Related words include the adverb poignantly and the nouns poignangce and poignancy. The usage of the word poignant to mean sharp to the taste has since become obsolete. 

Overall, the word poignant is an adjective that describes something that is painfully affecting to someone’s emotions or something that is deeply affecting and touching. Many different things can be poignant, such as a memory, a piece of memorabilia, or even songs. The word poignant is commonly used and very popular in the English language.