verb as·sail \ ə-ˈsāl \

Definition of assail

transitive verb
: to attack violently
  • Critics assailed his new book.
  • a politician assailed by the media
often used figuratively
  • She was assailed by doubts.
  • A horrible odor assailed our noses. [=we smelled a horrible odor]


play \-ˈsā-lə-bəl\ adjective


play \-ˈsā-lənt\ noun

assail was our Word of the Day on 08/23/2007. Hear the podcast!

Recent Examples of assail from the Web

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Did You Know?

Assail comes from an Anglo-French verb, assaillir, which itself traces back to the Latin verb assilire ("to leap upon"). "Assilire" combines the prefix ad- ("to, toward") with the Latin verb salire, meaning "to leap." When "assail" was first used in the 13th century, it meant "to make a violent physical attack upon." By the 1500s, English speakers were using the term to mean "to attack with words or arguments."

Origin and Etymology of assail

Middle English, from Anglo-French assaillir, from Vulgar Latin *assalire, alteration of Latin assilire to leap upon, from ad- + salire to leap — more at sally

assail Synonyms

Near Antonyms

cover, defend, guard, protect, secure, shield;


beat up on, fly at, go at, light into, pitch into, round on, set at, set upon, tear into;

Synonym Discussion of assail

attack, assail, assault, bombard, storm mean to make an onslaught upon. attack implies taking the initiative in a struggle.
    • plan to attack the town at dawn
assail implies attempting to break down resistance by repeated blows or shots.
    • assailed the enemy with artillery fire
assault suggests a direct attempt to overpower by suddenness and violence of onslaught.
    • commandos assaulted the building from all sides
bombard applies to attacking with bombs or shells.
    • bombarded the city nightly
storm implies attempting to break into a defended position.
    • preparing to storm the fortress

ASSAIL Defined for Kids


verb as·sail \ ə-ˈsāl \

Definition of assail for Students

assailed; assailing
1 : to attack violently or angrily with blows or words
  • His plan was assailed by critics.
2 : to be troubled or bothered by
  • assailed by doubts
  • A horrible odor assailed my nose.

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to fix or define the limits of

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