Vain vs. Vein: What’s the Difference?

Words that sound alike, but retain different meanings, are called homophones. English has many of them.

Vain, vane, and vein are all homophones. But none can be substituted for any other without altering the meaning of the sentence.

Read on to discover when you should use each of these words.

What is the Difference Between Vain and Vein?

In this article, I will compare vain vs. vein. I will use both of these words in an example sentence to illustrate their proper meanings. Then, I will explain a useful memory trick to help you choose vein or vain for your own writing.

When to Use Vain

vain versus vein What does vain mean? Vain is an adjective and it defined as full of oneself.

A person who is vain may be obsessed with his own appearance, or think very highly of his abilities.

For example,

  • Felicity is so vain; she thinks every song is about her.
  • The king of the realm was consumed by selfish ambition and vain conceit.

It can also mean producing no results; useless.

  • Hood popped Reiter in the face and then got in a few shots to the gut while Reiter tried in vain to land a few counter-punches before teammates separated the two. –The Washington Post

The popular phrase in vain, as in to die in vain, is spelled accordingly.

  • To die in vain

-not-

  • To die in vein.

When to Use Vein

Definition of vein definition and definition of vain definitionWhat does vein mean? Vein is a noun. It refers to blood vessels that return blood to the heart. Your heart pumps oxygenated blood through arteries to various organs and tissues in your body. When the oxygen in the blood is spend, it returns to the heart through veins.

For example,

  • Alan became so angry that the veins in his forehead bulged and he began to sweat.
  • The gladiator targeted his opponent’s jugular vein.
  • Unlike needles and sticks, Weisman said, the TAP100 device is simple enough to use that patients could collect their own blood samples at home, and phlebotomists in medical offices would not have to fuss around finding a prominent vein. –The Boston Globe

Most living beings with a circulatory system have veins. Even though trees have no blood, their leaves may also contain veins.

Vein is also used in other senses. A mineral deposit in the earth’s crust is sometimes called a vein. Likewise, vein is used in a less literal sense to mean a common theme running through something, like a conversation or series of topics.

For example,

  • The miners struck a vein of ore.
  • Apple sought to build a self-contained software ecosystem for its products, and Microsoft’s strategy is now very much in the same vein.

The popular phrases in that vein or in a similar vein are spelled accordingly.

  • In a similar vein.

-not-

  • In a similar vain.

When to use Vane

What does vane mean? Vane is a noun. It is short for weathervane, which is a device which spins to show the direction of the wind.

Vane should not be used as an adjective, and, as a noun, it is never used in the context of blood vessels.

Trick to Remember the Difference

Define vein and define vainDeciding whether to use vain or vein is a simple proposition. So much so, here is a helpful trick to remember vein vs. vain.

  • If you’re using the word as an adjective, you need vain.
  • As a noun, vein is the correct choice.

Vane is also a noun. It is only used in the context of weather. Since vane and weather each lack the letter I, you can remember that these words combine to form weathervane. This is the only context where vane is appropriate.

Summary

Is it vein or vane? Vain, vane and vein are English homophones, but they have separate usage cases that never overlap.

  • Vain is an adjective that means egocentric or full of oneself.
  • Vein is a noun that refers to a blood vessel, a mineral deposit, or a common theme.
  • Vane is short for weathervane.

Furthermore,

  • Vain is only an adjective.
  • Vein is only a noun.

Vane is also a noun, but is only ever short for weathervane. Neither weather nor vane contains and I, which makes it easy to remember that they go together.

[i]
[i]