The word wave has many different meanings, but they all have to do with an undulating motion or shape. A wave that washes up on a beach has the same kind of back-and-forth movement as a crowd of baseball fans doing “the wave” in the stands.

Use the verb wave to describe a greeting that includes a hand motion, from the enthusiastic flapping wave of a little kid meeting his dad at the airport to the prim wave of a Queen acknowledging her subjects. In physics, when you talk about a sound wave, there is a similar kind of rise and fall. Two Old English root words of wave are wæfre, “wavering or restless,” and wagian, “to move to and fro.”

Definitions of wave
  1. noun

    (physics) a movement up and down or back and forth

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    gravitation wave, gravity wave

    (physics) a wave that is hypothesized to propagate gravity and to travel at the speed of light
    sine wave

    a wave whose waveform resembles a sine curve
    oscillation, vibration

    (physics) a regular periodic variation in value about a mean

    a wave motion

    a wave on the surface of a lake or landlocked bay; caused by atmospheric or seismic disturbances
    standing wave, stationary wave

    a wave (as a sound wave in a chamber or an electromagnetic wave in a transmission line) in which the ratio of its instantaneous amplitude at one point to that at any other point does not vary with time
    traveling wave, travelling wave

    a wave in which the medium moves in the direction of propagation of the wave
    acoustic wave, sound wave

    (acoustics) a wave that transmits sound
    wave form, wave shape, waveform

    the shape of a wave illustrated graphically by plotting the values of the period quantity against time
    blast wave, shock wave

    a region of high pressure travelling through a gas at a high velocity
    impulse, pulsation, pulse, pulsing

    (electronics) a sharp transient wave in the normal electrical state (or a series of such transients)
    flap, flapping, flutter, fluttering

    the motion made by flapping up and down

    (electronics) an oscillation of small amplitude imposed on top of a steady value
    solitary wave, soliton, soliton wave

    (physics) a quantum of energy or quasiparticle that can be propagated as a traveling wave in nonlinear systems and is neither preceded nor followed by another such disturbance; does not obey the superposition principle and does not dissipate
    air wave

    a sound wave that is transmitted via air

    (physics) a short-lived oscillation in a system caused by a sudden change of voltage or current or load
    sonic boom

    an explosive sound caused by the shock wave of an airplane traveling faster than the speed of sound

    a single pulsation of an oscillation produced by adding two waves of different frequencies; has a frequency equal to the difference between the two oscillations

    a vibration of large amplitude produced by a relatively small vibration near the same frequency of vibration as the natural frequency of the resonating system
    sympathetic vibration

    (physics) vibration produced by resonance
    type of:

    motion, movement

    a natural event that involves a change in the position or location of something

  2. noun

    an undulating curve

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    sine curve, sinusoid

    the curve of y=sin x
    type of:

    curve, curved shape

    the trace of a point whose direction of motion changes

  3. noun

    one of a series of ridges that moves across the surface of a liquid (especially across a large body of water)

    moving ridge
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    breaker, breakers, surf

    waves breaking on the shore
    backwash, wake

    the wave that spreads behind a boat as it moves forward

    the movement or sound of water
    riffle, ripple, rippling, wavelet

    a small wave on the surface of a liquid
    crestless wave, swell

    the undulating movement of the surface of the open sea
    lift, rise

    a wave that lifts the surface of the water or ground
    billow, surge

    a large sea wave
    tidal wave

    a wave resulting from the periodic flow of the tides that is caused by the gravitational attraction of the moon and sun
    tidal wave

    an unusual (and often destructive) rise of water along the seashore caused by a storm or a combination of wind and high tide

    a cataclysm resulting from a destructive sea wave caused by an earthquake or volcanic eruption
    roll, roller, rolling wave

    a long heavy sea wave as it advances towards the shore

    a long curling sea wave
    white horse, whitecap

    a wave that is blown by the wind so its crest is broken and appears white
    ground swell, heavy swell

    a broad and deep undulation of the ocean
    type of:

    motion, movement

    a natural event that involves a change in the position or location of something

  4. noun

    the act of signaling by a movement of the hand

    wafture, waving
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    brandish, flourish

    the act of waving
    type of:

    gesture, motion

    the use of movements (especially of the hands) to communicate familiar or prearranged signals

  5. verb

    move or swing back and forth

    waved her gun”
    brandish, flourish
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    send a signal by waving a flag or a light according to a certain code
    type of:

    displace, move

    cause to move or shift into a new position or place, both in a concrete and in an abstract sense

  6. verb

    move in a wavy pattern or with a rising and falling motion

    flap, roll, undulate
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    flap when the wind is blowing equally on both sides
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    move so as to change position, perform a nontranslational motion

  7. verb

    signal with the hands or nod

    waved to her friends”
    waved his hand hospitably”
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    type of:

    gesticulate, gesture, motion

    show, express or direct through movement

  8. noun

    a hairdo that creates undulations in the hair

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    finger wave

    a wave made with the fingers
    perm, permanent, permanent wave

    a series of waves in the hair made by applying heat and chemicals
    type of:

    coif, coiffure, hair style, hairdo, hairstyle

    the arrangement of the hair (especially a woman’s hair)

  9. verb

    set waves in

    “she asked the hairdresser to
    wave her hair”
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    make a marcel in a woman’s hair
    gauffer, goffer

    make wavy with a heated goffering iron

    give a permanent wave to
    type of:

    arrange, coif, coiffe, coiffure, do, dress, set

    arrange attractively

  10. verb

    twist or roll into coils or ringlets

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    crape, crimp, frizz, frizzle, kink, kink up

    curl tightly
    type of:


    turn in the opposite direction

  11. noun

    a movement like that of a sudden occurrence or increase in a specified phenomenon

    wave of settlers”
    “troops advancing in
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    type of:

    motility, motion, move, movement

    a change of position that does not entail a change of location

  12. noun

    something that rises rapidly

    wave of emotion swept over him”
    “there was a sudden
    wave of buying before the market closed”
    wave of conservatism in the country led by the hard right”
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    type of:


    a growth in strength or number or importance

  13. noun

    a persistent and widespread unusual weather condition (especially of unusual temperatures)

    “a heat
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    cold wave

    a wave of unusually cold weather
    heat wave

    a wave of unusually hot weather
    type of:

    atmospheric condition, conditions, weather, weather condition

    the atmospheric conditions that comprise the state of the atmosphere in terms of temperature and wind and clouds and precipitation

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