as·​sail ə-ˈsāl How to pronounce assail (audio)
assailed; assailing; assails

transitive verb

: to attack violently : assault
The military has for years been developing offensive capabilities, giving it the power not just to defend the US but to assail its foes.James Bamford
: to encounter, undertake, or confront energetically
When a lazy man does make up his mind to assail a piece of work, he is like a dog with a bone.P. G. Wodehouse
: to oppose, challenge, or criticize harshly and forcefully
a proposal assailed by critics
… it is evident that Khrushchev was in trouble at home. The Chinese had also begun to assail him for being soft on the imperialists.Alexander Darlin
: to trouble or afflict in a manner that threatens to overwhelm
a man assailed by doubts/fears
… but now a terrible fear began to assail me.Bram Stoker
Many diseases stemming from bacterial, fungal and parasitic infections can assail human as well as canine systems.Tom Ewing
: to be perceived by (a person, a person's senses, etc.) in a strongly noticeable and usually unpleasant way
Here, too, is brought … all the waste stuff of the nation—everything that is subject to rot, and that can add to the foul stench that assails our nostrils.Edgar Rice Burroughs
assailable adjective

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." (Salire is the root of a number of English words related to jumping or leaping, such as somersault and sally, as well as assault, a synonym of assail.) When assail was first used in the 13th century, it meant "to make a violent physical attack upon." By the early 15th century, English speakers were using the term to mean "to attack with words or arguments." Now the verb can refer to any kind of aggressive encounter, even if it is not necessarily violent or quarrelsome, as in "Upon entering the room, we were assailed by a horrible odor."

Choose the Right Synonym for 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

Example Sentences

Recent Examples on the Web Congress needs to do its job and not assail the independent judiciary for forcing lawmakers to face the music and take tough votes. WSJ, 28 Feb. 2023 His plans mark a departure from the stance of both Republicans and Democrats in Congress, who frequently assail the Beijing government and express affinity and support for Taiwan. Mackenzie Hawkins,, 10 Feb. 2023 Trump and allies have continued to assail Pence for his refusal to toss out electoral votes that favored Biden. Kevin Johnson, USA TODAY, 12 Feb. 2023 In her race, Ms. Cheney opted mostly to assail Mr. Trump rather than to engage with her challenger, Harriet Hageman, whom Mr. Trump endorsed. Shane Goldmacher, New York Times, 17 Aug. 2022 There are books that assail you with their importance, and then there are those, like Allegra Goodman’s Sam (The Dial Press), whose modest-seeming ambitions blossom into sweeping works of emotional resonance. Lisa Wong Macabasco, Vogue, 9 Jan. 2023 Powerful ocean currents, brutal temperatures, and occasionally gale-force winds assail the rigs, tankers, and pipes. Mac Margolis, Discover Magazine, 17 Jan. 2011 Previously unknown pathogens also could assail the crop. Lindzi Wessel, Discover Magazine, 27 Sep. 2018 This is why merger scrutiny is such a big deal, because these companies are not built by super geniuses who use their access to the capital markets to build these impregnable businesses which no one else can assail. Christopher Byrd, The New Yorker, 4 Dec. 2022 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'assail.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

Word History


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

First Known Use

13th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of assail was in the 13th century


Dictionary Entries Near assail

Cite this Entry

“Assail.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 25 Mar. 2023.

Kids Definition


as·​sail ə-ˈsā(ə)l How to pronounce assail (audio)
: to attack violently with blows or words
assailable adjective
assailant noun

More from Merriam-Webster on assail

Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
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