Definition of vigil in English:

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Pronunciation: /ˈvijəl/


1A period of keeping awake during the time usually spent asleep, especially to keep watch or pray: my birdwatching vigils lasted for hours as he lay in a coma the family kept vigil
More example sentences
  • A mourner, fallen asleep in a late-night vigil, awakes the next morning to find that not only are his trousers missing, but the corpse has been stolen as well.
  • But when I came and kept vigil in his armchair while he lay on his left ribs, his back rolled around him like an exoskeleton, all night I stared at his books neat in their shelves.
  • In the old days families kept vigil and ate little ‘Soul’ cakes.
1.1A stationary, peaceful demonstration in support of a particular cause, typically without speeches.
Example sentences
  • N.O.W. was planning to hold a candlelight vigil outside the jail where Yates is being held.
  • The local authorities' campaign headquarters plans to hold protest vigils outside the treasury every few days, each time representing two different municipalities.
  • On March 27, about 200 teachers and students from the Wellington and Hutt Valley regions staged a protest vigil outside parliament.
2(In the Christian Church) the eve of a festival or holy day as an occasion of religious observance.
Example sentences
  • The Christmas pageant involving the children from Culleens and Kilglass N.S. will take place during the Gospel at the Christmas night vigil Mass in Kilglass Church.
  • It is at pains to point out that much of the ceremony took place during the Christmas vigil and on the feast of the Nativity.
  • The vigil Mass for Christmas will take place in Rathdowney Church on Christmas Eve at 9pm.
2.1 (vigils) Nocturnal devotions.
Example sentences
  • Cowled figures slip quietly from the monastic enclosure into the abbey church for vigils and lauds, an almost two-hour service that establishes the quiet and contemplative atmosphere of the abbey and the order.


Middle English (sense 2): via Old French from Latin vigilia, from vigil 'awake'.

  • Vigil comes from Latin vigilia ‘wakefulness’, from vigil ‘awake’. It was first used for the night before a religious festival, when people might stay wakeful all night in prayer. Related words include vigilant (Late Middle English); vigilance (late 16th century); and vigilante (mid 19th century) adopted from a Spanish word with the literal meaning ‘vigilant’. Surveillance (early 19th century) is from the same root and is literally watching over something, also found when someone invigilates (mid 16th century) an exam.

Words that rhyme with vigil

sigil, strigil

For editors and proofreaders

Syllabification: vig·il

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