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?

If you're assailed by doubts about the word assail, allow us to set your mind at ease by providing some surety. Assail comes, by way of Anglo-French, from the Latin verb assilire ("to leap upon"), which in turn comes from the Latin verb salire, meaning "to leap." (Salire is the root of a number of English words related to jumping and 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 apply 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

Examples of assail in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web Before the latest missile test, North Korea assailed the U.S. for sending the USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier group to the Korean Peninsula for joint training drills that included Japan and South Korea. Jon Herskovitz and Shinhye Kang / Bloomberg, TIME, 26 June 2024 With Trump and his allies directing money and resources behind McGuire in the contest, voter Esther Thulin said she was swayed to vote for McGuire by campaign mailers that came to her house assailing the congressman. Chris Suarez, Washington Post, 18 June 2024 On May 15, Gallant, channeling the criticism of many within Israel’s security establishment, assailed Netanyahu’s dysfunctional management of the war in Gaza. Shalom Lipner, Foreign Affairs, 11 June 2024 After decades of exclusionary redlining and targeting for predatory loans by big banks, residents of these communities are still being assailed by an array of bad actors. Jacob Inwald, New York Daily News, 17 Mar. 2024 See all Example Sentences for assail 

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'assail.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

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 13 Jul. 2024.

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

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